Boosting Structural Balance – Keys to a Pain free Life. Q&A with yoga therapist Chrys Kub

In this interview, Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D., Managing Editor at Yoga U Online, speaks with Chrys Kub about her pioneering work as a P.T. and yoga therapist.

Structural balance is important for staying pain free all life long, says Kub. Dysfunctional movement patterns over time develop into back pain, and other chronic pain issues if not addressed early. They also spill over into yoga poses, and affect alignment. If we can learn to identify dysfunctional movement patterns in students or our own body, we progress faster in our practice and enjoy freedom of movement throughout life.

Q. What inspired your interest in yoga in general and yoga therapy specifically?

Chrys Kub:  I’ve been a physical therapist for the last 25 years and 10 years ago began to practice yoga. After I became a yoga practitioner, I immediately saw the benefits of yoga in my work as a physical therapist.

So I started to explore how to integrate a yoga practice to help people who are healing injuries. That progressed to seeing a need in the yoga community for teaching structural yoga therapy programs on how to work with people with musculoskeletal disorders and chronic conditions, such as arthritis, Parkinson’s, neurological diseases, and chronic fatigue, which yoga can be a great help with. This really helped me to expand my practice and also to allow others to have the benefit of the knowledge I’ve gained.

Q, A highlight of your work is that you have developed a series of tools that enable yoga teachers to evaluate a student in terms of structural balance, along with strength, flexibility and all the movement patterns. Could you tell us about that?

Chrys Kub:  Through the years I’ve tried to figure out the fine line between trying to assess too much, and trying to find out what is most applicable for yoga teachers and therapists to work with.

I’m not trying to teach how to become a physical therapist. But, I am finding there are very typical movement dysfunction patterns that we see over and over again with our clients, which yoga teachers do need to be aware of. 

If yoga teachers learn how to identity the most common movement dysfunctions, they can help students and individual clients so much more. You can help clients become more aware of movement dysfunctions and to become more efficient at moving and breathing. If you combine that with all the tools of yoga, it’s a wonderful way to help clients get out of pain.

Also for your own practice, as you become more aware of these patterns in your body and your own compensations, you can progress towards a more aligned posture, which will boost your structural health in the long run. This in turn gives you ability to stay more mobile as you get older.

Q. When you do a structural assessment screening, are you referring to a person’s postural habits and how these impact what kind of ailments they may be predisposed to?

Chrys Kub: Yes, there is a real shift in the yoga therapy world, where some people are beginning to ask who ask if we even need to deal with structural issues. A lot of yoga is about the mind-body connection so if we get attached at just looking at musculoskeletal structure dysfunction, we miss that mind-body connection.

However, while I agree that we don’t want to over-emphasize structure, structural balance is the foundation for efficiency in the human body. If someone has inefficient movements, they will over time develop chronic disuse syndrome, chronic compensations and chronic dysfunction, which will cause pain, and can develop into chronic pain in the long run.

I believe it’s important to have knowledge in all these areas, so that you can be aware of the underlying structural issues that often lie at the root of chronic pain problems. Then you can address this using the tools of yoga and focus on the mind-body connection, breath awareness, meditation and other yoga practices.

Q. Can you give an example of a movement dysfunction?

Chrys Kub: One of the most common things we see is overactive use of hip flexor muscles. Because of our society and how we function, we’re either really very active doing sports with a lot of linear movements, or we’re sitting in a chair at work or driving and develop some over activity in these muscles.

These muscles affect the entire body, because they are connected from the femur all the way up into the lumbar spine and diaphragm. It not only can impact movement of the hip and spine, but also affect breathing and posture.

So it’s important to do an assessment of this area, and if we notice it is being dominant, we can do some very simple exercises to help quiet the muscle and then start to activate the muscles that are being less functional.

Q. How can yoga help address dysfunctional movement patterns?

Chrys Kub: The great thing about yoga is that it slows everything down. By slowing down the movement, you can find which areas are dominant and which areas aren’t functioning as they should.  Slowly you can start to re-learn what you already knew, before which is your pure movement that you were born with.

Q. Is there one common compensation pattern you see a lot in yoga students?

Chrys Kub: The hip flexors as I mentioned are very common. Mobility issues  in the spine are also very common. That’s when you see students over-rounding in their upper back when they are moving into Cat Cow, or dumping into their lower back. What we want to see them do is have a normal reversal of curves, so that as they are moving into a Cat pose, they hold back a little bit and focus more on the symmetry of the reversal of curves, with less rounding.

Giving people straightforward movements to look at as they practice is important, because typically if they have an overcompensation in one pose it creeps into another.

For example. If I have an excessive shortening of the lower back or inactive abdominals causing you to dump into your lower back in Cat Cow, many times you’re still doing the same thing when you’re standing in a Mountain pose.  If your can learn what you’re doing that may be less efficient you can use the same techniques in every pose.

Q. You have a course on Dynamic Assessment Tools for Yoga Teachers. Tell us what people can expect to learn in that course?

Chrys Kub: I will be introducing a user-friendly account of my assessment tool so that yoga teachers and therapists can look at each client’s movement, their posture and whether they are seeing compensations or not.

These assessments are targeted to look at the most common movement impairments that teachers will probably see in their students and how to evaluate each one individually and figure out what is happening. I’ll then go on to teach some tools to address these movement dysfunctions through yoga therapy and awareness exercises. Participants do not have to have in-depth anatomy training. There will also be a video component as a take home to see how assessments are done.

Chrys Kub combines a 25-year background in neurological rehabilitation and pediatrics with an extensive background as a yoga teacher. She is emerging as a leading educator for yoga therapists and yoga teachers in the therapeutic applications of yoga. Kub is the founder of Balanced Body Yoga Therapy in Charlotte, NC and is Program Director for Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute. She also is an educator for Yoga Alliance and a frequent presenter for the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

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