Tag Archives: bones

Reach for the Sky

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.

Upward Hand Pose

Urdhva = raised (or upward)
Hasta = hand
Asana – pose
Pronounced: (oord-vah hahs-TAHS-anna)

Like most asanas, the principles of movement in Urdhva Hastasana break into three parts: entering the pose, being in the pose, and exiting the pose. Whether you are practicing it individually or as part of a flow series, the pose should be executed with these principles in mind.
– Yogajournal.com

My basic understanding of the pose:

  • Begin in Mountain Pose – standing in neutral spine & pelvis.
  • Inhale and stretch your arms over your head.
  • When you are ready to exit the pose, slowly exhale and bring the arms down.
  • End in Mountain Pose.

The single biggest gift you can give your horse is becoming “live weight,”, whether on the ground or in the saddle. A horse can feel the difference if you’re braced against him or moving with him. When you learn to re-balance your body while remaining upright over your feet with your joints moving freely and without clamping on the horse, you can truly be “in sync” with his motion.

– Peggy Cummings

Peggy Cummings in her book “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up” gives examples of slumping vs arching. This is a good video of a woman demonstrating proper sitting / standing in pelvic neutral vs slumping or arching, as well as showing the structure of how the pelvis connects into the spinal column and legs.

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Neutral Spine Part 2

Correct positioning of your back, starting with your pelvis, is important for your balance, resilience, and comfort.

– Sally Swift in “Centered Riding 2”

Finding Neutral Spine and Neutral Pelvis – Sitting

When you are either arched or slumped – that is, not in Neutral Posture – your back, neck, shoulders, and joints begin to hold tension and may become stiff and painful.

– Peggy Cummings in “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up”

Finding Neutral Spine in the saddle

In the 20th century particularly, styles of riding came into fashion which are greatly removed from the nature of riding and from the natural style of riding.

– Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling in “Dancing with Horses: The Art of Body Language”

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Neutral spine Part 1

When sitting or standing in neutral, the body is most stable, strong, and free so the limbs can be used effectively without restriction.

– Peggy Cumming in “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up”

Human skeleton side view (S curve)

Normal spine has an S shape

Tada = A Mountain
Asana = Posture

Mountain pose, Tadasana, is the foundation for all of the standing yoga postures. Tadasana pose is standing with a “neutral spine” where the spine has the natural 3 curves. If you sit or stand up against a wall in neutral spine your head, mid back and pelvis should touch the wall. The outward curving of the spine are called “kyphotic” curves. The inward curving are called “lordotic” curves. In yoga transitions the Mountain Pose will be a position to re-centering and relaxing before moving to another pose. The body as it moves will come in and out of neutral spine and neutral hips.

The bones and muscles in the body are all tied together and affect each other. Over tight muscles can pull the body out of position. This may be from emotional tension or because the muscles have not been properly stretched. Other muscles may have become over stretched.  Imbalanced muscles will pull the body out of position and out of balance putting strain on the spine and joints. Understanding what the neutral position looks like and how the bones align is an important first step to making changes to posture. Stack your head, over your mid back, over your pelvis.

  • The head position affects the spine and the hip position. In neutral spine the head sits evenly balanced over the spine with eyes looking forwards. Imagine a string pulling the spine upwards from the top of your head to lengthen your body.
  • Lift the breastbone.
  • The shoulders are  relaxed and arms hang naturally by the side.
  • The hips can swivel independently from the legs by tilting forwards, sideways and backwards. A tilted pelvis alters the back’s alignment, such as with a flat back or sway back. Neutral spine has a neutral pelvis. In neutral spine the pelvis is in a neutral position. If you imagine the bones of the pelvic girdle as a bucket carrying water, then the hips  in neutral pelvis would not spill the water. The hips are not tipped front or back or to side. A neutral spine is not a rigid position, but is a point of centering and balance.
  • The knees are kept soft, not locked, but straight.
  • How the feet and legs are positioned can affect the tilt of hips and thus the spine. In neutral spine the legs stand under the hips with straight ankles and the feet pointed forwards with body weight evenly carried on them. The body is relaxed. It is important to have proper foot support, so that the feet do not roll inwards or outwards and have a proper foot arch. There are special foot supports that can be inserted into shoes to help.

  • Military posture has a very straight spine.
  • Too much kyphotic curving causes round shoulders or hunched shoulders.
  • Too much lordotic curving is called swayback.
  • Sideways curvature of the spine is called “scoliosis”.

Detailed explanation of muscles used in Tadasana from “Yoga Mat Companion 1: Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses” by Ray Long, MD, FRCSC.

I found it easier to note the rocking of the hips and feel of neutral spine while lying down.

Finding Neutral Spine – Supine

When you’re in Neutral Posture, your pelvis is neither tipped forward nor backward; your pelvis is aligned over the middle of the seat bones (ischial tuberosity) whether you are standing, sitting on a chair, or on your horse’s back.

– Peggy Cummings in “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up”

Finding Neutral Spine and Neutral Pelvis – Standing

Sally Swift suggests a standing “Teeter Totter” exercise. Tip forwards and try to hold the position. Tip backwards and try to hold the position. Let yourself come back to center and feel how much easier it is to be in proper alignment and balance.

Take time to imagine the significance of this contrast on a horse.

– Sally Swift in “Centered Riding 2”

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Rock and roll

The pelvis is the foundation of the riding seat.

– Sally Swift from “Centered Riding”

Pelvic anatomy

Pelvis diagram posterior view

Pelvis - posterior view

The ischial tuberosity are the two bones of the pelvis that you sit on.

Each half of the pelvis is composed of three bones, the ilium, the ischium and the pubis, that have fused together during development. The topmost bone (the one that forms the pelvic rim) is the ilium. When you put your hands on your hips, they are resting on the iliac crest.

Side diagram view of pelvis

Side view of pelvis

Pelvic Anatomy Sacro-iliac Joint: This video gives a good 3D rotational view of the pelvic bones, as well as describing a reason that we are stiffer in movement as we age.


Amazing example of how the body can move – hips and spine. Belly dancing by Sadie from Denver, CO.

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Awareness – Body Scan

Twice this week I awakened before dawn when it was still dark outside. Sitting in bed I did some stretching feeling where I was stiff. Where was I holding tension in my body?

I could hear my husband breathing on the other side of the bed and one of our cats quietly snoring at his feet. Moving my joints I heard clicks, cracks and pops. My right knee has a grinding sound just before I straighten it out. When did I develop this sound? Was it when I twisted my knee this past summer? The knee is much weaker now and perhaps damaged a ligament.

How do my joints feel as they move? I note the different ways my hands, elbows and shoulder joints move. What happens if I move my shoulder with my palm up? What happens if I move my shoulder with my palm down? I hear the click and pop of my right shoulder. My collar-bone doesn’t connect to my sternum properly on that side. Could this cause me imbalance in my body? Is there a difference in how my shoulders can move on my left and right sides?

I feel tension in my shoulders and neck. I consciously tell them to relax. Am I still holding tension? Rolling my head from side to side my neck makes quiet grinding noises and then a couple of loud cracks. My neck feels less tense after the cracks.

I imagine the atlas and axis vertebrae and the joints at the base of my skull. Can I move my head on the pivot points without bending the rest of my neck? Feeling with my fingers on muscles of my head and neck I move my head slightly nodding up and down and turning side to side.

I lay back down. I often find myself holding tension. Am I actually relaxed? Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.  It’s like my body is on guard and holds tension to prepare to react. Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.  Am I ready for fight and flight?  Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.  Can I just focus on my breath and not think of anything else? Even for a breath? Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.

How can I tell the difference between relaxed and tense? I have read about a body scanning technique that presents a contrast to help become more aware of holding tension. The body scan tenses a set of muscles to feel the contraction and tension. After feeling the tightness, then you tell the muscles to relax. Feel the difference.

Starting at my toes I tense each area of my body and hold the contraction a few seconds, then ask the area to relax. – Tense the foot by pointing toe forwards, then relax. Tense the foot by pulling toes backwards, then relax. I work my way up the body tensing and relaxing each area. Continue down my arms. Clinch my fists, then relax. Move to my shoulders. Lastly I’m squinching up parts of my face and sticking out my tongue.

My other cat jumped up on the bed to investigate. I practiced mindfulness by feeling his soft fur on my hands and listening to his rumbling purring. He gave me appreciative licks on my hand with his rough tongue. I got up and the house was dark. Dark enough that didn’t matter if had my eyes open or closed. The house was mostly quiet. Is it ever truly quiet?

Again practicing mindfulness I take the time to just stand and listen. I can hear humming from a computer and the quiet roar of a plane flying over coming into land at the airport a few miles to our south. Is it coming from California and folks on the red-eye?

I stand in the dark hallway with my hands just touching the walls. I try balancing on my left leg, then my right leg. I wobble.  I ask my body questions. Do I tend to tip one way more than another? I seem to tip backwards mostly. When I start to tip over standing on one leg it happens quickly. My feet muscles try to hold me stable and fail. Can I do anything to make myself more stable? Bend my legs, think differently? Would this be easier if I could see and maybe focus on a point? I can’t rely on my body’s proprioception alone to remain stable in the dark. The body’s proprioception system provides informational awareness of your body in space. I definitely need to improve my balance, as well as stabilizing muscles to help me hold position.

I shake out my limbs. First my hands, then my wrists, and my arms. I swing my arms gently and feel the joints of my shoulders and elbows. Next my legs. I bend at my knees and feel how they support me. Where are my hips? I do a hip swivel and swing my entire leg back and forth. I rock my hips up and back and side to side. Watching that belly dancing show has taught me a few things.

Late afternoon now… how am I sitting? I’m slouching in an awful position at my desk. The lumbar support cushion does help, but the chair wants to lean back and takes me with it. Seems easiest to lean back into the chair this way, but maybe a reason I also hold tension in my neck and shoulders and my upper back often hurts.

Awareness is an important step in making changes.

For a practice:

  • Try a body scan and check where you hold tension. Try to tense at least one area, then relax. Note the difference in how that feels.
  • Try moving your synovial joints to notice how they function. See post  “Ride with Your Bones” for definition and examples of these joints.
  • Can you stand on one leg? What about balancing with your eyes closed?
  • If you are sitting now… then are you aligned over your spine? Are you riding the bones of your chair? What is tight in your body?
  • As a mindfulness exercise – close your eyes, try to clear your mind and just listen. What do you hear? Just sit for a couple of minutes and listen.
  • Try breathing in for a count of 4, then out for a count of 4. Can you have your mind empty and just breathe focusing on counting your breath? This is a simple meditation. Try for a count of 10. What does your mind do? Does it wander off?

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Ride with Your Bones

If you “ride with your bones,” your muscles won’t have to work so hard.

Riding with your bones requires an understanding of skeletal anatomy–where the bones are and how they articulate.

– Sally Swift

Skeletons - man riding horse

Photo by Chris League on Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Our bones ride our horse’s bones.

The skeleton consists of both fused and individual bones. Bone is a dynamic living part of the body. New bone is constantly produced and old bone removed. The skeleton supports the body structure and provides protection to major organs. Ligaments, tendons, muscles, and cartilage support the skeleton.

Muscles work with bones as levers to move our body. A ligament is a dense fibrous tissue that connects bone to bone stabilizing the joints. Tendons are fibrous bands that connect muscle to bone. Cartilage is a gel-like substance that provides cushioning between bones.

A joint (or articulation) is a point of contact between bones or between cartilage and bones. There are several different types of joints. Fibrous joints are immovable, for example between the bones of the skull. Cartilaginous joints, such as the spinal vertebrae, contain cartilage to cushion the bones and allow some movement. Synovial joints are the most common and most movable.

Examples of Hinge, Pivot, Ball and Socket synovial joints

  • Hinge joints allow movement in only one direction similar to opening and closing of a hinged door. The elbow and knee are hinge joints. 
  • Pivot joints allow for rotation around an axis, such as your head on the top of your spine.
  • Ball and socket joints are the most mobile type of joint in the human body, such as the shoulder and hip joints. They allow for forward motion, backward motion and circular rotation.

Examples of Condyloid, Gliding, Saddle synovial joints

  • The joint at the base of the index finger is a condyloid (ellipsoidal) joint. It can move side to side and front to back, but cannot rotate.
  • Gliding joints have two bone plates that glide against one another, such as some bones in the wrist.
  • The thumb is a saddle joint allowing for movement back and forth and up and down in two directions.

Try moving and bending your various synovial joints and note the different methods of movement allowed in your body.

A human skeleton riding a running horse skeleton

A human riding a horse, photo by Patrick Gries (from "Evolution")

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