SMARTer bodies

Author: Smarter Bodies Admin

My Personal Transition…the Great Unknown of Peri-Menopause

My Personal Transition…the Great Unknown of Peri-Menopause

The Following post is by one of our apprentices Abby Kaufmann:

About a year and a half ago, I started having some symptoms that I self-diagnosed as perimenopausal. I am not a doctor, so how would I know that these symptoms were indeed possibly the signs of perimenopause? The big clue that something was up with me was missing a period. Since age 13 I have been a straight up 28 day regular as clockwork kind of woman. I knew I was not pregnant, and I do not have any other issues that typically cause changes in the menstrual cycle. I, therefore, assumed it might be the beginning of perimenopause. I was 47.

I began first, to look online, where all the information of the universe is held. Oddly enough, I found almost NO information. I was somewhat surprised. After all, people can go onto the internet to find out how to do so much, understand all kinds of things, get resources and support for myriad concerns. Yet, I felt let down by my search. Maybe I hadn’t looked properly? This WebMD page is certainly a good start. I didn’t even know what it was that I wanted to know, other than what to expect from my body. What I did find was that ANYTHING could happen.

I called my mother. She is a pragmatic person, and told me, “Oh, it’s no big deal”…. And yet, I recall her being miserable for what seemed like FOREVER. My aunt suggested I have the doctor test me to see where I was in the perimenopausal cycle. Although that seemed to be a reasonable suggestion, I wasn’t sure why I would NEED to do that. My grandmother was suddenly widowed around the time that her perimenopause probably took place. Her hair turned white almost over night, and I suspect that in her stress, at 51 with an immediate need to find work she may have been too grief-stricken and traumatized to notice that she was having hot flashes. She claims she never “went through any changes”. In a family of three formidable women, I was still lost. All I knew on my own was that I was, indeed, on my own. like!
It seems that although it may be typical to begin perimenopause around mid to late 40’s. that many people don’t start until later, although many start earlier or even EARLIER…. In the words, everyone’s experience of transitioning is different.

These posts will be about MY experience, thus far. Perhaps I can share something that will be helpful, or resonate with other women. The postings will NOT be about bashing others, promoting products or drawing lines. I don’t want to be pushed into a box for the withering, drying up ladies… At the same time, I do not wish to be a seeming alpha female who never seems driven off track. No, I am a real person, and this is an experience that has it’s ups and downs. I am not happy, because this is a milestone that heralds TO ME that although I am a vibrant, productive and energetic woman, I am on the road towards the end. I can no longer pretend that I will live forever. That bums me out. Yet, with this experience, I actually don’t want to either…. I was also hoping to open up the discussion in a embracing way so that our partners might find some insights as well. I don’t want to become invisible to society, to my community or to myself! I want to be empowered with knowledge, yet I am offended by gratuitous remarks such as “they aren’t hot flashes, they are power surges”…. NO DAMMIT!! Hot flashes are incredibly disruptive to me and uncomfortable. They, however, neither accentuate nor diminish my “power”.

Bad Yoga #17: Don’t Use Your Glutes in Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

Bad Yoga #17: Don’t Use Your Glutes in Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

I love treating my group classes like an open forum for discussion of all things yoga, movement…and reality TV. Picture me in a toga leading the class through Socratic dialogue. Recently, in one of these glorious moments of learning a student asked, “When we’re in bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) aren’t we supposed to release the glutes?” I had never heard of this cue, but others definitely had as evidenced by every other student in the class saying that they were also struggling to relax their butt muscles while holding the bridge shape.

No, people, you don’t understand. I thought I might actually pass out. This had to be one of the most egregious cues in the history of movement anything. I asked the student what the purpose of this cue was and she said, “We are told to relax our glutes to release tension and strengthen the quads.” Honestly, this is a moment that, even in memory, leaves me dumbfounded. It’s just so bad.

This fine tidbit is one of many tragic misinformation bombs that are dropped daily in yoga classes. Ok, so here’s why not using your glutes while in bridge is a bad idea. You need to use your glutes to get your pelvis in the air in the first place. Ideally, the muscular work of this bridge is then distributed along the entire back line of your body. But the gluteals, hamstrings and calves are the dominant muscle groups used to maintain the shape and height of your bridge. What I’m describing here is a kinetic chain; a group of muscles working together. To interrupt an integral part of that chain by releasing the buttock muscles could be injurious especially with repetition. (Note: The push of the feet into the floor with a strong and well distributed force is also essential to the shape of this asana. But for the sake of time and keeping this post at a decent length we’ll not go further into that.)

So, is it even possible to do bridge pose without the glutes?! Maybe…weird shit happens all the time, but it’s doubtful.

You could probably eventually train your butt to relax when you’ve reached the top of your bridge. If you are successful you can expect your pelvis to drop, which means you won’t get to experience the full length that your hip flexors and quads reach while achieving this hip extension. This stretch in the front of the body is a great reason to do bridge, especially if you spend a lot of time at a desk sitting (perpetual hip flexion). However, when the pelvis (i.e. physical support against gravity) drops in your new sad-bridge, those same quads and hip flexors could be overworked in a terrible compensation pattern resulting from desperate attempts to maintain length. Imagine an arch. This is the shape we are creating. But we are human and not stone. In order to create a nicely integrated shape it must be dynamic and the muscles of our backline contract to support the shape against gravitational and other compressive forces. Thus, in this asana: no gluteal support = inefficient compensation patterns. Also, the pelvis dropping a bit from its position  could aggravate already present low back issues (chronic pain, stiffness, herniations, etc.).

On an entirely superficial note, who doesn’t want strong, well-developed booty? I know I’m Puerto Rican (and Mexican) and, therefore, biased. But why not safely practice yoga and look good while doing it?


If you’re afraid of getting giant, bubbly booty because that’s not your thing (again, unimaginable in my world) do not worry. It takes more than a regular yoga practice to get that look. On the other hand, if you are interested in it, Kim and Marcus, the SMARTer personal trainers on our team can get you there. Be prepared to eat. A lot.

Now, I want to know, have you heard this cue? If so, ignore it! If you believe it, help me understand. One last thought: when I explained all this to the misled student mentioned above she said, “Well, shouldn’t we learn to do this pose supported by our bones?” I ask, “What moves your bones???”

 Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to this awesome podcast from our friend Ariana and colleague who interviews a cool movement teacher Joanne Elphinston. Then listen to all her other podcasts!

Want to train that butt and legs? Watch our apprentice, Abby, demonstrate killer bridge pose variations.

Bad Yoga #16: If I Twist the Wrong Direction the First Time Then I’ll Hurt Myself?

Bad Yoga #16: If I Twist the Wrong Direction the First Time Then I’ll Hurt Myself?

Our dream came true when one of our readers wrote to us with the most fabulous question:

I’d like to see if you can answer a question for me. I’m currently working on my 500 hour yoga certification. This past weekend one of the teachers, in talking about twisting postures, insisted that twists must be done to the right then left to follow the path of the intestines. She went so far as to say that you are putting your students digestive health at serious risk to do twists left then right. This just doesn’t seem likely to me. So please, if you can answer this question; does it matter which direction twisting postures are performed? I’m working on a scientific based workshop about asanas and would love to have some data regarding twists.

Thank you for your help,
Bruce Peterson

Great question and people are now sending them to us for answers. Happy happy day!!!!! (um, please do this more.) Ok, well, here’s our answer. Feel free to let us know how you think we did. Thanks again Bruce!

colonBe aware that systems of medicine that are explicitly based on the use of energy flowing through the body (i.e., acupuncture, ayurveda, etc.) may be more supportive of what your teacher is suggesting. Some people use yoga in this kind of therapeutic way. We don’t (but do support other beneficial aspects of yoga), so we’re going to keep our explanation in the context of the physiology we do refer to in SMARTerYoga™. This is partly the difficulty of culturally appropriating spiritual/esoteric practices like yoga and trying to apply them to a different demographic.

  1. Right to left is the direction in which the colon is structured and it moves its contents along this pathway. So, that’s accurate, so far….
  2. The enteric nervous system is very sensitive and responsive to touch. So, if you were doing visceral massage I would go with what’s typically been taught and massage right to left in order to help facilitate the movement described above. But, twists are not massage and do not provide the direct pressure that a massage would.
  3. Let’s put “yoga advice” in the context of daily living. If the advice you were given is true then you should be worried of ever having to spontaneously rotate your trunk to the left. This happens countless times in a day. Imagine having dropped something on the left and you pick it up with your right hand. Does that mean you now have to develop an OCD-like ritual to compensate for twisting “against your colon?” Doesn’t seem functional for easy living.
  4. Never have we read anything in movement literature that suggests otherwise. Maybe double check by looking in Lexus-Nexus or PubMed articles? Or collect data by working with students/private clients and document them as case studies.
  5. Neuroscience! The human brain is bilaterally organized, meaning we have a right and left hemisphere that is connected by the corpus callosum. When these two halves of the brain control our limbs they do so contralaterally. Left brain is in charge of the right side of the body and right brain is in charge of left side of the body. Guaranteed, if you google, “trunk rotation and bilateral organization of the brain,” you will find a plethora of scientific and movement oriented literature that suggests crossing our midlines is necessary for optimal brain function. I highly doubt that our brains and bodies would be constructed in this way if we had to be so careful about, what is to most of us, casual and unconscious movement. If, having been born structurally normal, I shouldn’t have to care about which direction and order I rotate my trunk. It does’t make evolutionary sense and it flies in the face of the principle of homeostasis.
Bad Yoga #15: Practicing Chaturanga Will Make Your Shoulders Stronger…NOT

Bad Yoga #15: Practicing Chaturanga Will Make Your Shoulders Stronger…NOT

We will not be the first, nor hopefully the last, to write about the dangers of trying to do Chaturanga without proper strength training. Our hope is to disabuse the general public of false beliefs. One being that all things “yoga” are a safe way to mindlessly approach movement while under the guidance of an often under-qualified instructor. Chaturanga is one of the most challenging postures in any yoga class. It’s a straight plank with your elbows bent and tucked into your sides. Google it and you’ll see what’s up.

The shoulder joint is one of the most complicated and unstable joints in the human body. The shallow structure of the scapula’s curved edge, in which the head of the humerus sits, makes this joint prone to injury. If you’re going to repeatedly attempt movements like Chaturanga then you need to know that the alignment cues that go into making the asana’s classic shape (the elbows at 90 degrees) can put much strain on the front of the shoulder joint.

The spine in this posture is supposed to be held in an elongated line. In other words, The curvatures of the spine are meant to be held in balance, without one of the four curves looking exaggerated. Your lumbar curve is not overly pronounced and your thoracic spine extends to reduce the look of a hump. (We recently heard a yoga teacher tell students to draw in the lower belly in order to “puff up” the lower back. The last few sentences are the anatomical description for the experience that cue is trying to convey.) This foundation of core strength must be established firmly before attempting the posture. Try holding the spine in this line while lying on the ground (supine) and not letting it shift while you move your limbs. This takes focus and skill just lying down. The challenge will become increasingly more difficult while trying to resist gravity in Chaturanga. Once you properly train the core you can move on to shoulder function.

The front of the shoulder joint is most at risk. Let’s suppose you can properly maintain core strength/spinal alignment. But now, you must stabilize the shoulder complex, especially as you bend through the elbows. All this means is that your shoulder blades don’t peel off your ribs, a movement known as “winging.” Scapular stabilization is related to strength and the proper function (timing) of your rotator cuff muscles, lats, anterior serratus, pecs, trapezius, etc. The size and shape your scapulae and the heads of your humerus will influence how well you can control the shoulder blades in Chaturanga. (Note: Everything you do in yoga is going to be influenced by prior physical occupations and body proportions.) Performing Chaturanga repeatedly, without the ability to stabilize, can lead to damaging the tendons of your rotator cuff and even possibly the tendon of the biceps. My biceps?! Yes. The biceps help you position the scapula over the hands and also help you bend your elbows. So, if your scapulae wing and shift forward towards the ground the head of your humerus will most likely be shifted forward in the joint and the end of your clavicle can catch and pinch the aforementioned tendons.This same pattern of injury can occur in badly performed overhead patterns, especially when there’s weight involved. Translation into yoga speak: Downward Dog.

So if you really want to do Chaturangas and be safe here’s how:

Look to other forms of exercise to prepare your body.

Being able to do sustain a full plank with scapular stability is a healthier place to start when trying to build up to Chaturangas. Then move on to practicing pushups with the arms and hands wide away from the body. This is a less strenuous position for the shoulder joint. If the second you start lowering to the floor (bending your elbows) your shoulder blades start winging off your rib cage then you should assess, with the help of a movement professional, what you need to do to progress in a healthy way. While in yoga class, you should evaluate how ready you are for advanced vinyasa flows which include many chaturangas as you transition (Note to ego: Just drop to your knees when making these transitions till your ready. Or don’t and end up with scapular dysfunction. Whatevs.)

Not all Yoga moves are appropriate for all bodies. This may be disappointing, but it’s true. One of the biggest lies/misconceptions about a yoga practice is that it has to look a certain way or that your physical self must somehow conform to a specific style of performance. Not true. At All. If you know that doing Chaturangas, or any other asana, hurts then stop. You don’t have to include it. If you want it then go about pursuing your goals intelligently. Don’t believe the hype about practicing everyday to get stronger. Practicing the same pattern over and over will only (maybe!) make you stronger in that pattern, even if you are doing it incorrectly. Insisting on this kind of repetition can potentially lead to overuse injuries.

*The subject of this post was explored at the request of Anna Bluman. She is a fellow anatomy nerd and awesome yoga teacher. If you’re in London go see her! We would.