Month: November 2013

Release your Psoas, Free your Mind and Body

There are many yoga postures that focus on opening the hips–specifically to release the psoas.  The psoas is the deepest core muscle, originating on the spine near the solar plexus and inserting at the top of the femur. This muscle affects our structural balance, muscular integrity, flexibility, strength, range of motion, joint mobility, and organ functioning. 

In animals, the psoas equivalent is known as the ‘tenderloin’.  It is the only muscle that attaches the spine to the legs so it is responsible for holding us upright, walking, flexing and rotating the thigh, and flexing the pelvis.  The psoas is the first muscle to contract and the last muscle to relax during the ‘fight or flight’ response that arises with fear and stress.

People have the instinct to protect themselves when stressed out.  When faced with a fearful or dangerous situation, the strong psoas muscle is tensed to give us the burst of speed when we need to get away.   It is also connected to the diaphragm which affects our breath and fear reflex.  Low grade stressors of everyday life chronically cause tightness in the psoas that gets stored there until you practice deep release exercises.  If we constantly contract the psoas from stress, the muscle shortens which can lead to low back, knee, sacroiliac, and menstruation pain, sciatica, disc problems, scoliosis, hip degeneration, infertility and digestive problems.  A tight psoas also constricts the organs, puts pressure on nerves, interferes with fluid movement, and impairs diaphragmatic breathing.  When you find a deep release of the psoas through yoga asana practice, you can relieve a range of physical symptoms including back, hip, knee, and leg pain, poor posture, menstrual cramps, sleep difficulties, misalignment of gate, and improper foot rotation.

Often, you hear yoga instructors saying that the hips are where we store tension, fear, and past emotions.  This junk drawer of emotions refers to the tightness in the psoas.  Emotionally, the psoas release can ease the emotional restraints still present from deep-seated fears and trauma.  Because the psoas is a deep and protected muscle, it is a perfect place to store emotions from trauma.  The hormones and neurotransmitters released by the brain when we have the fight or flight response are often stored here. During deep release of the psoas, it is common to refire these neurotransmitters and experience the old emotions buried in the hips.  Next time you practice a deep hip-opening yoga posture, notice what comes up to help cultivate the awareness of your psoas.   A released and healthy psoas can ground you and allow subtle energies to flow through your body.  After the release, you may experience a deeper awareness of self, freedom from old barriers, and a greater sense of peace.

Can Yoga Change your DNA?


We have all heard how yoga offers great benefits. But what is the science behind it?  Meditation and yoga have been known for offering a wide range of immediate and long term effects on a person and now researchers are delving deeper into the metaphysical evidence. These practices have been shown to reduce stress, increase happiness, enhance learning, memory, and boost immune system functioning. However, the understanding of how exactly these changes occur has been elusive. Research has just come out that tells us practicing yoga actually changes you down to your DNA.

Researchers found that people, who do just three 60-minute sessions of semi-vigorous yoga per week, were 9 years younger on average than non-exercisers. These results showed much more than just a glowing face. The study found that these exercisers had much longer telomeres, or the aspect of DNA that acts as a marker for aging, than people who did not move as much. These results held for any type of exercise, but yoga goes a step farther than most, by detoxifying the body more efficiently, and stimulating and balancing the endocrine system, which among other things regulates aging, healing, metabolism and immunity. 

In another study, participants were monitored before and after meditation, mantra (repetition of ‘sacred’ sounds), and mindful yoga practice. Participants were given blood tests immediately before and after 20 minutes of self-directed practice.  Researchers looked at 22,000 different gene sequences to measure any changes. All participants showed measurable changes in the genes that researchers have identified as being responsible for relaxation (reduced cell energy production), aging, metabolism and insulin response. This initiation in telomere maintenance genes means that meditation and mindful practice may actually be repairing DNA. The data suggests that yoga and related practices result in rapid gene expression alterations, which may be the basis for their long-term microbiological and higher-level health effects.

This is just some of the groundbreaking research out there about yoga’s dramatic effect on the human body. It demonstrates that yoga has instantaneous and long-term positive effects on how our genes work and express. To feel these effects yourself, just step onto your mat and the Yoga by Degrees team will guide you through ongoing growth and improvement in health and well being.

Pose of the Month: Wild Thing


Wild Thing

Sanskrit: Camatkarasana

This heart-opening pose is featured this month so we can all take a step back to appreciate.  Find some gratitude this month for big and little things alike: yourself, your yoga practice, loved ones, leaves on the trees, moments of joy.

Benefits: physically and emotionally opens the heart space, opens chest, lung and shoulders, opens the front of the legs and hip flexors, builds strength in shoulders and upper back, stimulates throat and heart chakras, energizes the body and mind, combats mild depression, and improves sense of balance

Directions: Begin in Downward-facing Dog. Bring your weight into your right hand and roll onto the outer edge of your right foot. As you inhale, lift your hips and dig into the earth with your right hand. Exhale to step your left foot back behind you with your left knee bent. Curl your head and your upper back into a backbend, lift your hips higher, and extend your left arm from your heart to express your gratitude and freedom. Then return to Down Dog carefully, and move through the other side to even out. 

Meet our YBD Teacher of the Month: Bridget

Meet the lovely Bridget, our inspiring Yoga by Degrees Teacher of the Month!  Bridget is a 200-hour certified yoga teacher and studio lead at our Wheaton location. You can enjoy Bridget’s class in Wheaton and Western Springs.  To check out Bridget’s class schedule, visit our website:
When and how did you come to yoga?
I came to my mat about 2 1/2 yrs ago at the urge of my best friend to try and get me past a bump in life. My sister came with to my first class and ever since that day, my mat has been a place of support and love, especially when I have no idea where I am headed. 🙂
Why do you teach yoga?
Because I just can’t help it 🙂
What is your favorite pose?
Down dog is my favorite favorite pose. In Adho Mukah Svanasana I feel long and strong, connected to the ground and part of the sky. It’s the first place I ever experienced my belly pulling itself in and being upside down always reminds me to find new perspective.
Who inspires your teaching?
My teachers and students are a continuous source of inspiration. Their kindness, laughter and care always remind me of the importance to share good stuff with others.
Tips for beginners:
Find a smile on your face when you want to scream and give your body the opportunity to suprise you. 🙂 We are all a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for.
What’s your favorite quote: “Don’t ever let anyone steal your joy.”