Yoga Focus: Shortening The Lever

By cueing participants to shorten the levers, you can help them avoid unnecessary strain and reduce their risk of back injury.

When we move our spine into flexion, extension, twisting, or lateral flexion, the position of our arms can dramatically change the overall safety of our movement.

Depending on our arm position, we can create a ‘long lever’ or a ‘short lever’. A long lever uses the arms to add to the overall length of the torso (e.g. when the arms are lifted so that the biceps are next to the ears). In this position, when we move the spine from neutral into extension, flexion, or lateral flexion, it increases the amount of load that the back supports. For the general population, this additional load increases the risk of back injury. For this reason, it is advisable to choose a shortened lever when moving the spine, by keeping your arms at your sides, alongside the body. Specific examples of this are when moving from standing, or Mountain Pose to Forward Fold. Reach your arms to the sky as you inhale, but then circle sweep out to the sides as you move towards the floor.

Another great example of shortening the lever is when used as an option in Chair Pose (squat). Traditionally the arms reach upwards, biceps close to the ears. However, if you lower the arms so they are parallel to the floor, or even with bent elbows to your sides, you reduce significant load on your lower back. This is a great option for those newer to yoga, or taking care of their backs while continuing to build strength in the back and core muscles.

In a different range of motion, yet still taking care of the lower back using a shortened lever length, is Locust Pose. When clients lie prone, rather than having the arms in front and off the floor (and hoping they can balance the load with core strength), cue them to keep their arms at the side of their body with palms facing up. Focus on lifting the chest only, and then with time and increased core strength and body awareness, add the legs. If increased load is desired, hands can come in front of the forehead with elbows bent to the sides. In this way we are focused on building the strength we want in the back, while avoiding unnecessary strain and risk of injury.

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Lisa Greenbaum is the VP of Operations of YogaFit Training Systems, as well as an E-RYT 500, Senior Master Trainer and international presenter.