In Yoga Tune Up® we’re encouraged to look for the less obvious reasons why a muscle or joint might act the way it does. Human anatomy is at once complicated, beautiful and mind-bogglingly intertwined. Rarely does it seem that the site of discomfort is actually the source of the problem. But if you can loosen just one tiny piece of the knot, keep following the thread—and you’ll probably unravel your client’s pain.
Consider a woman who came to me complaining of sciatica on her left side. She had been in and out of physical therapy for years, but it never provided long-lasting relief. A few sessions with the YTU Therapy Balls, some pelvic primers and the leg stretch series relieved the searing leg pain she has been experiencing, but now she noticed the entire left side of her body, shoulder to thigh, felt tight. Clearly while we had relieved the majority of her discomfort, we hadn’t solved the problem.
We used the Therapy Balls on her quadratus lumborum. The intense sensation she felt on the front side of her body was a perfect reflection of the QL/psoas connection at the 12th thoracic/upper lumbar vertebrae. What didn’t make sense, however, was that given the QL and psoas’ connection to the respiratory diaphragm, she was breathing too shallowly for someone feeling the work to the extent she claimed.
Perhaps the issue was lodged further up the body. The lower trapezius also connects at T-12. What if the lower traps were tugging on the mid traps, which were tugging on accessory respiratory muscles like the rhomboids, upper trapezius and pecs? Since my client mentioned her shoulder hurt, we changed tactics and moved the balls to her upper back, rotator cuff and clavicular area, adding some PNFs and ‘shazam’ stretches like Holy Cow at the Trough. She ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ about how nice all of this felt, but her breath deepened only slightly.
Stumped, we returned to her mid-section—this time doing static yogi leg lifts to stretch her psoas eccentrically (lengthening the muscle while contracting it). With her left leg hovering an inch off the mat, she inhaled so deeply and dramatically it surprised us both. And then came the woooosh of her body releasing from her shoulder to her thigh (see? they are connected!). It was at this point my client mentioned she had broken her sternum some time ago, but never received respitory therapy as part of her rehabilitation. She hadn’t taken a deep breath in years and had never noticed until now. But neither had she noticed any pain at the site of the break—only the sciatica which brought her to me.
How the human body processes and presents injury can be frustrating for client and practitioner alike. It is unclear exactly how my client’s body dealt with her broken sternum. What is clear is that as her sternum healed, it kicked off a chain reaction in her body that wound its way though her chest, shoulder, back, abdominal and possibly gluteal muscles, ultimately showing up as sciatic pain—which is now, happily, a distant memory.
We finished that session with a few rounds of uddihyana bandha—they literally blew her mind and mine, as the body’s quirky, circuitous muscle connections and pain unwound themselves in just one breath.
Learn more about our Yoga Tune Up Teacher Training.
Watch our videos on YouTube.