The Draw-In Maneuver

By AYC Instructor Forrest Campbell

In any given yoga class you may have heard the phrase, “draw the belly in toward the spine,” or at least something similar. This fundamental and common cue has been used by many yoga and fitness professionals across the board to communicate something that has great value to spinal and abdominal organ health. Unfortunately, at times fundamentals can be pushed aside during class, so unless you are in a workshop or working one-on-one with an instructor, you may not get a thorough explanation of what the draw-in maneuver accomplishes for you.

Anatomical Overview

Our core is considered most of our torso and essentially our center of gravity. More specifically it is made up of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. This complex includes the lumbar spine, pelvic girdle, abdomen, and the hip joint. Our abdomen — especially the transversus abdominis— and a little bit of the pelvic floor are the focus during the draw-in maneuver.

The draw-in maneuver is the activation of the deepest layer of abdominal tissue called the transversus abdominis. This muscle is made of horizontal fibers and runs between the rib cage and the pelvis. When activated properly, the muscle fibers contract and your belly draws in, recruiting the transversus abdominis and pelvic floor. This action also compresses all the abdominal contents, which helps support the organs and lumbar spine.

How to Build Strength:

Imagine yourself squeezing and buttoning up the tightest pants in the universe. That’s the maneuver I’m talking about. Building strength and awareness in this area can take time, so patience is key. The more you practice, the more endurance and strength you build.

Tip #1

Begin by drawing the belly in and contracting. Hold for short intervals to build a neural drive, which creates a stronger contractile signal to that area from your nervous system. Do not completely cut off your breath. You can breathe while engaged, but your breath may not be as deep as normal.

Tip #2

After you become more developed and aware of the drawing-in method, you can apply this to your practice. Especially before you initiate movement or hold a posture.

You can practice this in many ways, but below are a few postures where you can build some deep abdominal strength and awareness.

 

Chair Utkatasana

Chair is a symmetrical posture that can be ideal for practicing the draw-in maneuver. From standing (mountain pose) bend the knees to allow the knees to project over the feet. The torso will hinge from the hips and lean slightly over thighs. In this variation to practice the draw-in maneuver, allow your cervical spine to stay in a neutral position. Draw the belly in and maintain contraction for 3-5 breaths. You may start with hands at heart center or arms extended.

 

 

 

 

Warrior 1 Virabhadrasana I

Warrior 1 is a great pose to practice drawing in the abdomen in an asymmetrical posture. For this variation, step your feet about 31/2 to 4 feet apart. Back foot can be at a 45-degree angle with the toes pointing to the outer edge of your mat. Front knee is bent. Hands can be at heart center or extending overhead. As you stand with spine long and neutral, draw the belly in towards the spine. Even though you are contracting abdominal muscles, do your best to have a steady breath. Hold here for 3-5 breaths with a focus on staying contained in the core. Repeat on the other side.

 

Spinal balance

Once you have achieved some strength and awareness with drawing the belly in with a neutral spine, you can take it a little farther. To begin this spinal balance posture, start on all fours in table. Extend your left leg back and allow it to be parallel to the floor. Extend right arm, parallel to the floor. Keep head and spine neutral at the start and draw the belly in. Once you feel strong and stable you can now take this into more of a backbend by lifting your arm and leg a little higher and gaze up to where the fingers are pointing. Maintain posture for 3-5 steady breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Keep Practicing

This practice can lower your chances of experiencing low back pain during yoga by strengthening the supporting muscles around the spine. It can also prepare you for more advanced abdominal movements such as Uddyana bandha, nauli kriya, and Agni Sara. Just like everything else, moderation is key. You do not want to draw your stomach in all day long, because that can overwork your muscles to the point where they become less elastic, which can subsequently limit your movement of breath. Our breath is one of the most important and fundamental aspects of our being, and we definitely do not want to bind that up.

We are all doing our best to become the strongest we can, and you can use this as one of your tools to do just that!

Yoga vs. Yoga Therapy

It’s no secret that the practice of yoga is therapeutic in a myriad of ways. By flowing through asanas, practicing meditation, and utilizing breathing exercises, yoga practitioners are able to reduce their stress and anxiety, increase flexibility and blood circulation, and ease both mental and physical pain. Yoga therapy goes beyond a classroom or group experience to help heal the whole person on an individual level.

Yoga as we know it in the West, tends to be focused on the physical practice of asana in a group fitness setting and sometimes pranayama and meditation are incorporated. Students adapt their practice to fit in with the style of yoga being taught. Therapeutic yoga, on the other hand, is focused on the practitioner, and takes a multifaceted approach to yoga traditions to help improve the practitioner’s overall quality of life. For this reason, therapeutic yoga is used by both physical therapists and psychologists to heal chronic pain and emotional trauma, among many other ailments.

Instead of a traditional yoga class that teaches a single practice to a large group of people, therapeutic yoga is typically held in a private, one-on-one session to accurately assess the needs of the clients. Therapeutically-oriented yoga instructors help clients find ways to heal through yoga, offering tools and resources based on the individual’s needs.

According to the International Association of Yoga Therapists, Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga. While this includes asana practice, the practice of yoga for therapeutic benefits extends beyond focusing on the physical body to tap into all five layers of being. These layers are known as the Koshas.

Annamaya Kosha-The Physical Body

You are already familiar with Annamaya Kosha, as it is the only tactile Kosha you can actually see. The yogic practice of asanas supports the first Kosha, strengthening and healing the physical body that encompasses the remaining four Koshas. 

Pranamaya Kosha-The Energy Body

The second Kosha, Pranamaya, is the energy layer of our bodies that can be compared with human physiology. The second body encompasses our breathing, digestion, and biological processes. As its name suggests, the second body is fueled by breath practice, pranayama, as these exercises deliver oxygen-rich blood to all corners of the body.

Manamaya Kosha-The Mental-Emotional Body

The third body is responsible for our motor and sensory skills, and provides us with awareness. This body is nourished by the practice of mantra meditation, which soothes and restores our mental state — relieving anxiety and obsessions by clearing the mind.

Vijnanamaya Kosha-The Wisdom Body

The fourth body can be translated as “intellect” or “wisdom,” but it also encompasses the subtle mental processes of conscience and willpower. To strengthen this kosha, ancient yogis developed the yamas and niyamas, rules and restraints that yoga students are asked to uphold. By making a conscious effort not to lie, steal, harm, overindulge, or desire more than you actually need, you will find a sense of contentment and clarity that improves your overall quality of life.

Anandamaya Kosha-The Bliss Body

The fifth and final body is one that very few people are able to fully experience. In fact, it is thought that only saints and sages are able to experience this body in day-to-day life. By activating the bliss body, you are achieving your deepest level of being, and experiencing the purest form of peace, joy, and love.

Teaching therapeutic yoga requires specialized training to ensure that you are able to help your clients heal safely and effectively. While many programs can take years to complete, Asheville Yoga Center offers a Therapeutically Oriented 300-Hour Teacher Training that will prepare you to work one-on-one with clients in as little as nine months. If you are ready to get started on the next chapter of your yoga journey as a Therapeutically Oriented instructor, go to  https://youryoga.com/300-hour-therapeutic-yoga-certification-2/.

5 Yin Yoga Poses to Try at Home

Learn how Yin yoga can increase your flexibility and reduce stress

Before signing up for a Yin yoga class, consider starting your practice at home with these five poses.

#1 – Meditation Seat

Sit upright with your legs either crossed in front of you, in half-lotus or in full-lotus position, keeping your back straight and your head and neck aligned with your spine. Place your hands where they feel comfortable — perhaps resting on the knees or at heart center, or perhaps you place your left hand, palm-up, in the palm of your right hand. From there, follow your breath as you relax all of your muscles. Concentrate only on keeping the spine straight, and let everything else go with each deep, cleansing breath. 

#2 – Melting Heart

Starting at the table top position, slide your hands forward and lower your forearms as you drop your chest between your shoulder blades. Your hips should stay stacked on top of the knees, and you can put your elbows on a blanket or bolster if it’s more comfortable.

#3 – Caterpillar Pose

Find a comfortable seat with your legs extended out in front of you. Walk your hands forward until you find your first edge, then round your back and drop your head to relax into the pose.

#4 – Supported Fish

Place a bolster or a block beneath your head and shoulders as you recline backward. Your chest should be open, with your arms spread on either side of you, and your shoulders should be supported. Relax your knees — either bent as in butterfly or straight out in front of you — and breathe into the posture.

#5 – Reclining Twist

Begin on your back and hug your knees to your chest, then slowly drop them to either side of your body. Spread your arms into a “T” position, and turn your head gently in the opposite direction of your knees. Hold this posture for the desired amount of time, then slowly release and move into the other side.

What is Yin Yoga?

Despite its growing popularity in North America, many people are still unfamiliar with the Yin style of yoga. This is not surprising, given that the most popular styles of yoga in the West — Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, etc. — are “Yang” in nature. As its name suggests, Yin yoga is the counterpart to these active styles of yoga, and focuses on the body’s deep connective tissues and fascia as opposed to the superficial tissues Yang yoga targets.

Yin yoga (formerly known as Daoist yoga) is a passive style of yoga, and the majority of the postures are completed in a seated or reclining position. These postures are meant to restore energy to the body, and are held anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes. The results of cultivating a Yin yoga practice include being able to sit longer and more comfortably in meditation, as well as increased flexibility and reduced stress.

During a Yin yoga practice, you are encouraged to sink deep into each pose as you send your breath to all corners of your body. The deep stretches associated with Yin yoga allow you to access the connective tissues in the body through the gentle holding of the posture, which improves flexibility and creates more space within the body. As you sink into the poses, tension leaves the body with each restorative breath, quieting the mind and revitalizing the spirit. Taking the time to practice Yin yoga also allows you the opportunity to check-in with yourself mentally, improving mental clarity and reducing anxiety in the process.

Tips for Practicing Yin Yoga

As you practice Yin yoga, it is important to keep the following principles in mind:

  1. Find a comfortable, safe edge. Do not push yourself into pain or strain as you are practicing Yin yoga. Focus instead on gently sinking deeper into the posture with each breath, so that you feel a stretch — but never pain.
  2. Stay still. Once you’ve found your edge, commit to being still in the posture. This helps to prepare you for long periods of meditation by creating a space for you to focus on your breath and clear your mind.
  3. Hold the pose. As previously stated, Yin yoga involves holding the postures for an extended period of time — some yogis hold the poses for up to 20 minutes! As you explore Yin yoga in your personal practice, try to hold the pose for at least 1-2 minutes to start. The more you practice, the longer you’ll be able to relax into the position.
  4. Exit the pose slowly. When it’s time to come out of the pose, be sure to follow the same slow, gentle motions that you used getting into it. Moving out of a pose too quickly or aggressively can be dangerous, so be sure to exit with care.
  5. Use props when necessary. If at any point in your Yin yoga practice you find a need for extra support, consider adding in props such as bolsters, blocks, eye pillows or even a weighted blanket to help you sink deeper in the position. If you do not already have these props at home, you can find them at the Boutique at Asheville Yoga Center.

If you are interested in learning more about Yin yoga, consider reading the Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark or Yin Yoga Principles & Practice by Paul Grilley.

Once you’ve explored the benefits of Yin yoga on your own, you may consider expanding your practice through a Yin yoga class. Asheville Yoga Center offers a variety of Yin classes as well as combined Flow & Yin to provide a well-rounded yoga practice for our community. Many of our world-renowned instructors specialize in this restorative style of yoga, and can help you to deepen your practice and reap the full benefits of Yin Yoga.

How Yoga Can Improve Your Active Lifestyle

5 ways that practicing yoga can benefit athletes

Athletes and people who lead an active lifestyle are no strangers to muscle tension and soreness — especially if that lifestyle includes kayaking, climbing, biking, or running. While these recreational activities will keep you fit in their own right, supplementing your current hobbies with yoga can yield a wide range of benefits. By practicing yoga, you’re not only reducing your risk of injury by keeping your muscles and joints limber, you can also improve your performance as a runner, paddler, biker, or even weight lifter.

To help you reap the rewards of yoga, we’ve developed a number of yoga workshops at Asheville Yoga Center specifically for those with active interests. A couple of examples include our three-hour Yoga for Paddlers workshop hosted by renowned kayaker Anna Levesque, who instructs on proper alignment and poses to target the muscles used (and underused) in paddle sports. Another is a four-week Yoga for Runners series, where AYC instructor Sierra Hollister uses yoga to restore symmetry and increase flexibility to help runners improve their performance.

We won’t go into a long-winded explanation of ALL the benefits of yoga (spoiler: there are a lot), but here are four of our favorite ways that yoga can help people who love to live an active life.

Increased Flexibility

If you’re an avid runner or athlete, it’s no secret that you can reduce your risk of injury through stretching. But by adding Yin yoga to your weekly routine, you’ll bring mobility and increased flexibility to all of your muscles. Yin yoga involves holding passive floor poses for extended periods of time to reap the maximum benefits of the position. Poses can be held for up to 5 minutes, sometimes longer, and the poses focus on the connective tissues of the body. This provides balance to the muscles underused in your active lifestyle, and supports the health of the muscles you’re activating during your running or paddling.

Improved Recovery Time

In yoga, much emphasis is placed on the breath: as you move through each position, you take long, deep breaths to send oxygen-rich blood flowing to all corners of your body. These breathing techniques can help maintain muscle elasticity and improve the recovery time of your sore or injured muscles. The stretches you receive through yoga practice also expedite recovery time: as you gently stretch your muscles during your yoga practice, you allow them to relax and reduce inflammation where it’s present.

Muscle Gains

Virtually any style of yoga will offer increased strength when practiced regularly, but by adding POWER to your yoga you can really tone your body from head to toes. “Power” yoga is largely inspired by Ashtanga yoga, a style that incorporates synchronized breathing with each movement to produce flowing patterns of motion and energy. Power flows are often considered the “athletic” style of yoga, as the rigorous vinyasa flow stokes an inner fire to burn calories and build strength. By incorporating a weekly power flow yoga class, you’ll more than likely find that your performance in running, kayaking, climbing, or other active hobby improves significantly. Not to mention the value of building up the muscles you don’t use as often.

Reduced Tension

Yoga offers an opportunity to quiet the mind and listen to the body as you gently move through stretches and poses. By engaging with your muscles in a new way — whether it’s through sun salutations or gentle restorative yin yoga — you’ll be able to feel the corners of your body that have been holding tension. The more you practice, the more in-tune with your body you’ll become, and the easier it will be to notice where you hold tension and how to reverse the chronic fatigue and soreness you experience from running, paddling, climbing, etc.

Improved Endurance

Yoga teaches you to better utilize your breath, which in turn allows your body to more effectively use oxygen. This alone is a key component to improved endurance, because the body uses oxygen to produce energy during exercise. By focusing on the breath during active or restorative yoga practice, you are conditioning your lungs and respiratory systems for aerobic sports such as running or paddling. In addition to this, yoga breathing creates space in the body, allowing more space for oxygen-rich blood to flow.

So what are you waiting for? Even if you only have 20 minutes a day to dedicate to your yoga practice, make it happen. If you’re new to yoga and need instruction, Asheville Yoga Center offers a variety of beginner-friendly yoga classes every day.