Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From the Isis Scrolls

Ask the Yogi! Yoga Therapy for Pain and Injuries with Robyn Smith.

In this monthly column, certified Anusara Yoga Instructor, Robyn Smith, will answer your queries about healing pain and injuries through yoga poses. Please send in your questions to

Dear Robyn,

I’ve been experiencing pain in my right shoulder when working at my computer for the last few months. I thought yoga was supposed to help, but now I notice downward dog and table position aggravate my pain. What do you suggest? Thanks, Anne.

Dear Anne,

Yoga can actually help your situation quite a bit. The funny thing is that the poses that can worsen your injury if done incorrectly are the same ones that can be the most healing if done with proper alignment and action. Downward Facing Dog Pose is a great example. Often in this pose, the lower and upper arm bones succumb to the pull of gravity and the shoulders and base of the wrists collapse, causing wrist and shoulder misalignment and thus pain. However, activating the muscles that oppose the gravitational pull can lead to great shoulder relief. To work in this pose properly, I would suggest first learning to apply the proper actions in the pose I call Half Dog. This is like downward dog on your knees.

Half Dog Pose: To start, set the intention to be kind to your self. This will create a sweet tone for your practice. Now, from all fours, place your wrist creases parallel with the front of the mat, align the middle of the wrist with the outer shoulder muscle, and spread your fingers out like a sunflower. Then allow your heart center to “melt,” creating a valley between your shoulder blades as you recognize your desire to heal your body. (Avoid collapsing fully here if that melting action easy for you). This opening of the back of the heart is the action you’ll need to recreate once in the Half Dog pose. Now walk your knees back about 8 inches and reach your hips back over your knees, so your thighs are vertical. To protect your wrists and shoulders, root down through the finger pads while strongly lifting up through the arm bones. Lift them up so much that your armpits get hollow (without letting them roll inwards towards your ears). Maintaining that action, allow the area between your shoulder blades to “melt” down towards the floor again as you stretch long from your hands to your hips. The opposing actions of the arm bones lifting and the heart melting, create great strength in the arms and upper back, while also opening the upper back. In fact, these actions, when applied daily in this and other poses, will realign your shoulder and may even completely resolve your shoulder pain, especially if your computer position is ergonomically correct! Once you can perform Half Dog without pain, attempt the complete Downward Facing Dog with the same actions. Please keep in mind that many people have an inner torso rotation which needs to be addressed before applying the above actions. This is where a yoga teacher with a trained eye becomes invaluable.


We often have to use under-used muscles to create proper joint alignment, working against our habitual postural or movement habits. When this happens, those under-used muscles get stronger and are more apt to hold the joints in proper alignment. In turn, when the joints are aligned, the muscles are closer to their optimal length and they are “happier!” They no longer “complain” from being over-stretched or over-worked from misaligned positions

Please e-mail me if you have any questions!


Robyn Smith is a certified Anusara Yoga Instructor, Integrative Yoga Therapist and Hanna Somatic Educator who has been teaching yoga since 1994 and helping individuals with chronic pain through Somatics and Yoga Therapy since 1998. She offers classes, workshops, teacher trainings, retreats and privates in Arcata and beyond. She can be reached through or at (707) 440-2111.

Ask the Yogi: Yoga Therapy for Pain and Injuries

Originally printed in the Isis Scrolls.

In this monthly column, certified Anusara Yoga Instructor, Robyn Smith, owner of Inner Freedom Yoga, will answer your queries about healing pain and injuries through yoga poses. Please send in your questions to

Dear Yogi,

I always have trouble "feeling" the correct position that my body should be in for Plank pose. Usually my teacher comes over and tells me that my middle is sagging. But I feel that if I raise my middle, my butt also goes up and my lower back gets irritated. Any ideas?

- Janet

Dear Janet,

You are correct to be concerned about your lower back alignment in Plank pose. Plank pose done properly, activates your Third Chakra, the center of your individual power and confidence, and should feel steady and solid like a wooden plank. A sagging middle or a lifted pelvis in Plank pose is an energy drain, allowing your power to “spill out” from your middle. It suggests your core strength is not being used, or is not yet strong enough for the pose, potentially leading to wrist and lower back discomfort.

Good Plank pose alignment is exactly like good Mountain Pose alignment: your thigh bones should move toward the back of your legs and your tailbone should move toward your heels, toning your lower belly. However, in plank, the inner thighs and belly muscles have to work much harder against the pull of gravity to keep your lower back, legs and pelvis (the heaviest parts of your body) in good alignment! To rediscover your personal power and access these important muscles, I suggest finding them first in Mountain pose and then practicing Plank pose on your knees for a while (an easier version), before returning to the full pose.

Here’s How:

Mountain Pose: Come to a standing posture with your feet parallel and hip width apart. Place a yoga block on the narrow setting between your upper inner thighs. Slightly bend your knees and pull your block back with your inner thigh muscles, without locking your knees. Your legs should be straight. Feel how your sit bones expand and your lower back curve increases? This is an important action for creating a lower back curve. Now, keeping your block pulling back and more weight in your heels than usual, lengthen your curve by gently scooping your tailbone down toward your heels. You should feel your pelvic floor and lower belly tone and lift. These are the core muscles you will need to call upon for the full Plank pose. Now if you lift your arms up parallel to the floor, you’re doing a standing plank pose! Let’s put these exact instructions into Plank pose on the knees.

Plank Pose on the Knees: Come to Plank pose with a yoga block on the narrow setting between your upper thighs and your knees on the floor. Because of gravity’s pull, your pelvis and belly will want to hang toward the floor. To use your inner thigh and belly muscles for good alignment, inhale and lift the block with your inner thighs and feel your thighs and sitting bones lift and expand, increasing your lower back curve (see picture A). Now, keeping your thighs lifted, exhale to scoop your tailbone toward your heels with confidence. Feel your legs firmly hug the block and your sitting bones narrow. This strong movement should tone the pelvic floor and lower belly muscles and lengthen the lower back curve you had before. However, it should not be so powerful that it overrides the first movement: pushing your hips and thighs down or sagging, flattening, or rounding your lower back. Now try pulling your hands and knees isometricly towards each other. This action strengthens your core even more to prepare you for the full pose. You are now in the optimal position for the pelvis and back in Plank pose (see picture B). The block is a great tool to help activate your inner thigh muscles, but is not required once you have found them. I also recommend using a mirror at your side to check your alignment.

When you are consistent in your alignment and strength with the knees down, try the full Plank pose again to restore your individual expression of confidence and power. The instructions are the same as above with the knees lifted.

Take care and enjoy your new personal stamina and core strength!


Robyn Smith is a certified Anusara Yoga Instructor, Integrative Yoga Therapist and Hanna Somatic Educator who has been teaching yoga since 1994 and helping individuals with chronic pain through Somatics and Yoga Therapy since 1998. She offers classes, workshops, teacher trainings, retreats and privates in Arcata and beyond. She can be contacted through or (707) 440-2111.



CONDITIONS SOMATICS CAN HELP: low back pain, bulging discs, sacro-iliac joint subluxation, sciatica, frozen shoulder, knee pain, limping, constipation, shallow breathing, headaches, scoliosis, TMJ dysfunction, carpal tunnel syndrome, bunions, poor posture, limited flexibility, stiffness, all the “itis” family, and many other conditions that may be the result of chronic muscular contractions.


HOW: Through neuromuscular re-patterning. Somatics tells your brain to stop sending the repetitive unconscious messages to your muscles and they relax.

CAUSES: Unconscious tension patterns can start from physical or emotional traumas or habituated movements associated with injury, stress or aging.

Thomas Hanna, P.h.D., founded Hanna Somatic Education based on his studies with Moshe Feldenkrais, Bio-feedback and Hans Selye’s stress response.

For more information on Hanna Somatic Education, see their website at or

“I’ve experienced chronic lower back pain for about 3 years, which no other therapy seemed to completely release. With 3 sessions with Robyn, and the exercises she gave me to practice at home, my pain is gone and I’ve been consistently pain free! “ -D.H.

“The somatic session gave me hope about my chronically tight shoulder and neck area. It greatly released in one session and I now have tools I can use to continue my progress.” -M.R.

The class Schedule


5:30 – 6:45 pm
6:00 - 7:30 pm*

Tuesday 9:30 - 10:30 am
Noon - 1:20 pm**
4:00 - 5:15 pm
5:30– 7:00 pm
1 - 2
Patrick - new time!
Wednesday 9:00 - 10:30 am
10:45 am - 12:00 pm
1 - 2
Thursday 9:15 - 10:30 am
10:00 - 11:30 am*
5:45 - 7:00 pm
1 - 2
Friday 9:00 - 10:30 am
10:45 am - Noon

1 - 2+

Saturday 10:00 - 11:30 am 1 - 2 Patrick - new time!

These two classes are held at The Westhaven Center for the Arts,
501 South Westhaven Dr. (Just 5 mins south of Trinidad, 12 mins north of Arcata).
** This class meets at Trinidad Town Hall.
All other classes are at the Community Yoga Center in Arcata.
See Location below.

All classes will meet on Federal Holidays unless noted.

A new year, a new blog!

Happy New Year!! We offer to you some yogic practices for enhancing your life this year:

Yoga Off the Mat: Practicing yoga in your daily life includes how you relate to yourself, to others, and to the planet. With the symbolic time of this "New Year," we can bring our yoga off the mat by taking the opportunity to reflect on the past and to set conscious intentions for the future.
To bring consciousness/awareness to your life is a central element of yogic practice. For me, I notice where I hold myself back with limiting beliefs and habits. I may tell myself I'm not good enough or that things aren't going right. Then, when I remember the Tantric teachings, I ask myself, "says who?" These teachings remind us that we are limitless, perfect and supremely intelligent. They tell us that we already have everything we need to flourish. We need only remember this truth and open to the abundant offerings of Grace, to see the perfection and beauty in ourselves and in the unfolding of each moment.

A New Year's Ritual: Make a list of any habits, burdens, beliefs, or attitudes that no longer serve you that you would like to release from your life. They are like stuck energy inside blocking your experience of inner freedom. On a separate piece of paper, write a list of new habits, beliefs and attitudes you would you like to magnify in the new year. Then make a simple affirmation summarizing each list. "I release insecurities and fear. I live with compassion, faith, and abundant joy." Build a fire and as you remember your affirmation for the first list, repeat the word "svaha!" three times, throwing the list into the fire. Watch it burn into oblivion, symbolizing the dissipation of this stuck inner energy. Do the same for the second list, offering your wishes into the fire to be taken up like a prayer of smoke to some higher spirit. Remember that you can continue to use your affirmations by visualizing a fire of transformation each time you find yourself stuck in limiting thoughts. ("Svaha," an ancient Sanskrit term of renunciation, is traditionally uttered with the gesture of making offerings in a fire ritual).

Thanks for all of your heart-filled offerings to us each year!

May your year be full of sweetness, beauty and joy!