So today we’re going to be talking about integration principles. So let’s talk about integration principles in your yoga practice. This can be applied no matter what school of yoga you come from. I want you guys to think about integrating all body functions into the yoga practice. This is why we coined the term and name our practitioner training, Functional Yoga Medicine. It’s the integration of transformational psychology, modernized functional medicine, and timeless wisdom, which includes yoga.
Yoga is the umbrella that integrates all body parts together. Integration is combining or coordinating separate elements to provide a harmonious interrelated whole system. It’s your job to make sense of this for your clients. Yoga refers to the complete connection of the body and mind that enables efficiency of movement, optimal alignment that prevents injury, strain or pain, and enhanced metabolism, detoxification and elimination. So integration requires awareness, patience, time, and consistency. It takes time to master but is necessary for optimal results.
Mind-Body Integration and Mastery
We’ve got six different elements that we’ll be talking about. Number one is mind-body integration. It’s our central nervous system to our peripheral nervous system. Mind-body mastery requires one to be aware of their faulty posture or alignment. They have to be aware first and foremost. Many times lacking when the client is coming to your class or your clinic. Mind-body mastery requires them to be aware of their structural malalignments, restrictions in their fascia, and soft tissue weaknesses and imbalances within the body.
This also requires them to have Drishti, which is focus – it’s the focused gaze between your eyebrows as you know. Their breath and focus into their body allows them to be fully present in their body to direct the mind, to move the body with awareness, and to self-correct to have a self-healing effect as they go into and out of each pose.
The second integration principle is breath integration. Breath is life, it’s where carbon dioxide and oxygen are exchanged. You breathe in oxygen and you breathe out carbon dioxide. This enhances your body to have that carbon exchange which helps with detoxification, elimination, metabolism. The goal is to bring awareness to the breath, both anatomically and physiologically. Inhalation should expand the rib cage with spinal extension. Exhalation should contract the ribs and create a slight spinal flexion.
Inhalation opens, exhalation contracts down. In reality, if you’re doing this correctly, only the ribs flare out and contract back in without involving the spine. But if you take a closer look, it’s the inhalation that will create typically spinal extension, and then exhalation will create spinal flexion. The rib cage should expand sideways, backwards, and frontwards without muscle compensation. Muscle compensation we see commonly is in the neck and the shoulders – if someone has compensation it means they are tense in their upper body or they’re shallow breathers. There’s no full excursion of the breath into the rib cage.
Remember, we’ve got the left and right lobes of the lungs on both sides, and they are occupying space under the rib cage. So as the ribs extend or expand, this is getting oxygenation into the lungs, and as it contracts it’s able to get all the air out of the lungs. It’s common to create tension in the neck while breathing, but this should be avoided. The exhale should minimize tension and maximize control.
Understanding Pelvis and Spine Integration
The third thing that we look at is pelvic and spine integration. The pelvic region is the heaviest part of the body. The pelvis and the spine should be carefully examined to make sure that the spine is perpendicular to the pelvis, and alignment should be achieved by activating the proper muscles that stabilize this region for optimal movements. This region is integrated with the ribs via the transversus abdominis.
Transversus abdominis is one of the four core muscles, and it spans vertically from the inferior border of the anterior ribs down to the pelvis. Anterior and posterior tilt of the pelvis, with the use of the breath, is a great way to feel the integration between the ribs, spine, core, and the pelvis, using the accessory muscles of respiration, which includes the core muscles. I utilize this activation of the accessory muscles to get my clients to engage with their core muscles because as you and I both know, many yogis or people don’t always know what core activation feels like or looks like. So it’s your job to teach them. There is a multitude of different ways to do that and we’ll go over that in future blogs.
Feet, Ankle, and Knee Integration
Fourth integration is feet, ankle, and knee integration. The feet are typically the base of support. The feet, ankles, and knees have to be connectedly aligned from the base of support. So in standing, the feet, ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, and then head should be in alignment, creating a straight line if you were to look from a side angle. This alignment changes in various poses – downward dog, plank, chaturanga chair, etc. Understanding the kinematics of your body alignment, posture, anatomy, and structure is key to keep the practice integrated to optimize movement and efficiency.
Movement of the Shoulder
The fifth integration pillar is shoulder, scapula, and collarbone integration. Shoulders should be drawn down and away from the ears. By doing so, this creates a decompressive effect in the spine. Imagine as if the right shoulder blade tucks into your left jean pocket, and the left shoulder blade tucks into your right jean pocket. As you do that, you should feel the lift and the pull up, surging up toward the ceiling. This is commonly something that I emphasize.
Common shoulder compensation is upper trap tightness due to forward shoulders. Another is winging of the shoulders where the scapula lifts when you go down onto your hands and knees. For example, in plank, if the scapula lifts away from the ribs, that means the serratus anterior is weak, causing winging of the shoulders. This is improper alignment of the shoulders. So you want to make sure you round and really activate the serratus and get strong there.
It’s important to remember that the shoulder blade or scapula has its own movements that are separate from the shoulder. Remember, the shoulder is a ball and socket joint, so it has 360 degree movement. The scapula rotates up and downward, and it can abduct and adduct to allow the motions of the shoulder. So when I’m abducting my shoulders, the scapula is rotating out. And when we talk about the movement of the scapula, we always talk about it in reference to the inferior border of the scapula down below. So as it tilts upward and tilts in, that’s abduction. The shoulder blades might go forward and back as well, which is protraction and retraction of the scapula.
These are all motions that are available to the scapula. The scapula can rotate up and down, forward and back, depending on the motion of the shoulders. The shoulders have 360 degree movement, and they should be in sync with the movement of the scapula.
Importance of Proper Alignment
The final, sixth integration principle is head, neck, and jaw integration. It’s common to have a forward head. Remember the head weighs between 20 to 25 pounds. So if it’s displaced forward, the common thing that we see is a lack of lordotic curvature in the cervical spine, which can cause a lot of tightness. A lot of people come with tightness on the front and they have limited range of motion in their cervical spine. This is something that we want to make sure we fix so that they have the full range of motion in their spine, especially in their neck.
So in the cervical spine, it’s common to have a limitation of movement due to faulty alignment and posture. It’s imperative to align the head over the shoulders and strengthen and stretch the necessary muscles and joints to enable full range of motion of the cervical spine. Something to keep in mind, if the patient had head trauma or some type of motor vehicle accident or whiplash, they might have a lot of muscle memory and compensatory pathological patterns up at the neck, or hypertrophy meaning spasms. Shoulder traps, or upper traps, and the muscles around the scapula might be super tight causing a compressive effect.
You always want to make sure that their head is not displaced forward to make sure that you create balance in their body because at the end of the day, when you’re sitting or standing up nice and tall, it should be effortless and you should be engaged with those muscles that hold you up against gravity.
TMJ Issues Involve More Than Just The Jaw
It’s important to understand that also our jaw, the TMJ structures, are directly over our pelvis. So in physical therapy when setting the jaw, if you have TMJ issues, almost always you can find that the patient also has low back issues due to the pelvic innominate rotation and compensatory patterns, causing lots of issues at the low back. You always want to check the kinetic chain down below, and always remember that the jaw should line up with the pelvis.
So if they do come to you with TMJ issues, always look down towards the pelvis. When the movements become difficult, it’s common to see clenching of the jaw as well. So it’s important to keep this in mind to prevent unnecessary strain to the neck and jaw. It may be something that they routinely do and it’s their way of accommodating stress in their lives too.
A lot of people clench their jaw or grind their teeth when they’re sleeping because of the chronic stressors in their lives, and when they do that a lot of the neck musculature and shoulder musculature tend to be super tight. This also adds to the improper pathological malalignment with improper muscle adaptations and muscle memory that can get them in big trouble down the line.
These are the clients that are coming to you for yoga practice. It’s super important that you understand how to look and integrate the whole body principles. Remember the number one integration is mind-body integration. The second integration is breath integration with the rib cage and understanding the movements available there, and then next is the pelvis and spine integration into the hips as well. And then feet, ankle, and knee integration. Then the shoulders, scapula, and collarbone integration. Lastly, the sixth integration is head, neck, and jaw integration.
If you have any questions, please comment below!
Talk to you soon.