Simon Borg-Olivier MSc BAppSc (Physiotherapy) is a Co-Director of Yoga Synergy, one of Australia’s oldest and most respected yoga schools. The Yoga Synergy style is based on a deep understanding of yoga anatomy, yoga physiology and traditional Hatha Yoga. Simon has been teaching since 1982. He is a registered physiotherapist, a research scientist and a university lecturer. Simon has been regularly invited to teach at special workshops and conferences interstate and overseas since 1990.
While on The Yoga Rainbow Festival earlier this month I got to meet and hang out with Simon Borg-Oliver and discuss over breakfast, lunch, dinner as well as while walking up and down mountains, among other things, the breath, kumbhaka in particular as well as it's possible health benefits, bandhas and how to employ them to effectively push blood around the body, keep down the heart rate during practice and make you fancy a salad rather than a steak after practice.
The Interview is below
My friend Mick, you may remember his guest post recently,(CASE STUDY: "The Benefits of employing Kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) during Asana." Guest post by Mick lawton) insisted I asked Simon lots of questions about the health benefits of kumbhaka and seeing as I couldn't exactly take notes over breakfast we decided to make a short interview and try and cover some of the topics we had been discussing while breaking bread or in Simon's case consuming huge bowls of salad.
Over the last couple of days I've tried to use Youtube's sub-title/caption tools but have lost the work three times. I can't bare to hold of on publishing this any longer so here it is, I'm going to be uploading an extra copy of the video tonight and will work on subtitles and a full transcription over the following week.
The interview revolves around the question of Kumbhaka and it's possible health benefits. I begin the interview by reminding Simon about my Ashtanga friend Mick Lawton and the the hereditary illness he suffers from and how his healing seems to be improved when he employs kumbhaka in asana and pranayama.
"I have a rare genetic auto inflammatory disease. As a result I am in the fortunate position that I get extensive blood and medical checks performed on an almost weekly basis. Without going into huge medical details, the tests include full blood test, inflammatory markers, kidney and liver fiction, blood pressure, blood sugars............, the list is endless". Ideal for a case study.
As someone who has a genetic disease there are times when I can flow through Primary and Intermediate without ever questioning the sequence. However, during times of active disease I have to modify and question the sequences, often changing things to best serve the therapeutic repair of my body."
During the periods when I employed Kumbhaka during asana practice I generally enjoyed an improved state of health. This was reflected in my blood tests that showed lower CRP, lower SAA and lower cytokine markers for inflammation.
Generally speaking, all my markers for inflammation were lower during the periods I employed Kumbhaka during my asana practice.
This effect was further enhanced if I employed pranayama within 10 mins of Asana practice.
The period when my inflammatory markers were at their lowest was when I employed Kumbhaka during asana and then immediately followed the asana practice with 20 mins of pranayama.
I also advocate a slow, deep inhalation and exhalation.
I wanted to ask Simon if this apparent healing effect made any sense to him from his Molecular Biology, Physiotherapy and Yoga background and if so why.
We talked about the breath and how CO2 could be increased through different methods in the body, allowing greater release of oxygen to the cells due to the Bohr effect (which Simon explains with a Big toe example). Krishnamacharya's use of kumbhaka in asana and how this might be a useful method of directing blood to particular areas of the body as well as the use of bandhas was also discussed. We talked about how the PH levels in the body could be effected through particular approach to the employment of bandhas and how this could effect whether you fancied a steak after practice or a salad. One of my concerns as a kidney stone sufferer is to sweat less in my Ashtanga practice ( I need liquids to flow through my system, through my kidneys rather than miss them altogether through sweating excessively). Simon relates sweating to heart rate and how this can be controlled during practice, again through the use of bandhas and our approach to breathing. We discussed different approaches to breathing and use of bandhas in Ashtanga vinyasa practice as well as within yoga in general.
NOTE: "I have apologise that on the video at 7:30 - 7:45 i made a mistake in what i said - I actually meant to say "The only way to ensure oxygen gets to the cells is by increasing CO2" and by not by decreasing CO2 as in unintentionally spoke - thank you Mick Lawton for pointing this out
thank You to Eva Kincsei for filming this and getting the video to Anthony". Simon
UPDATE: We now have the transcription thanks to my friend Esther
nterview with Simon Borg-Olivier with Anthony Grim Hall
Location: Yoga Rainbow Festival, Turkey
Transcription by Esther.
ANTHONY: Krishnamacharya outlined how he was using Kumbhaka in his first book Yoga Makaranda.
My friend Mick, has an hereditary illness with regular attacks throughout the year, which causes much inflammation and pain in joints, he also had regular visits to hospital. He started to incorporate Kumbhaka into his practice, and he started to find that his healing was much quicker. Due to regular visits and blood tests at hospital, the hospital was also noticing a difference.
So we’d like to ask you about Kumbhaka, and if that makes sense to you coming from a background in molecular biology and physiotherapy. Does it make sense to you that Kumbhaka can have a healing effect.
SIMON: Yes definitely, there are many benefits that can be attributed to various types of breath retention, Kumbhaka, and of course there are several different ways you can do a kumbhaka and each of them will have a different effect. You can hold the breath in, you can hold the breath out, and you could hold the breath partly in, you could also get a similar effect to kumbhaka just by not breathing very much at all. You could also get a similar physiological effect from kumbhaka by breathing very very very slowly, breathing very very slowly would look to someone else like you are not breathing at all. So, all of these things have effects physiologically and physically as well.
ANTHONY: When you say breathing very slowly do you mean long slow inhalations or do you mean just breathing regularly but very softly?
SIMON: You can do either. If I had to do a graphical analysis, say this is time in the horizontal axis, and amount of breath on the vertical axis.
If I go deep breath in deep breath out.
This is a lot of fluctuations in the breath.
But if I do a kumbhaka, inhale, hold the breath, exhale, hold the breath. Inhale, hold the breath. Holding is a straight line.
But I could simulate that straight line, by just doing little breath in little breath out.
So from a distance a little breath in and a little breath out would look like a straight line. Physiologically, it has the same effect as kumbhaka.
In Sanskrit, in Yoga terms, that’s really what is Kaivela Kumbhaka is. It’s what happens when you’re meditating, you feel like you’re not breathing at all, but actually if you study it, it’s just a very little in breath and out breath.
ANTHONY: Why does that have a similar effect as a very large inhalation and a very large exhalation?
SIMON: It has a similar effect as holding the breath in or holding the breath out. Because holding the breath in and holding the breath out will build up carbon dioxide. And carbon dioxide is one of the main effectors of the physiological effects of kumbhaka. So you’ll also get high levels of carbon dioxide, not just from holding the breath in or holding the breath out, but by not breathing very much. So when we meditate we don’t breath very much, it’s a very little in breath, a very little out breath. So because the air is not exchanging much, you’ll actually start building up CO2. Physiologically one of the best ways of getting the positive effects of carbon dioxide build up is by doing meditation. You hear of many people who have cured themselves of cancer, by doing meditation. On a physiological level one can speculate that the increases in health from someone, say who has had cancer, may be because of the increases in carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is necessary to be present for oxygen to be deposited into cells via the Bohr effect.
ANTHONY: Yeah, can you explain the Bohr effect, because I’ve tried reading about it a few times, and don’t really get it so well.
SIMON: The Bohr effect very simply would say that if you have oxygen which is carried on Haemoglobin, the red pigment in blood, and it’s travelling through your blood, it might come to say, your big toe, and would say I’ve got oxygen, does anyone here in the big toe want oxygen? And all the cells in the big toe will say, yes I want oxygen, and before it releases its oxygen to the big toe’s cells, it’ll say show me your carbon dioxide and if the big toe cells have no carbon dioxide then the oxyhaemoglobin will not release it’s oxygen, it’ll just travel off somewhere else. You need the local presence of carbon dioxide for oxyhaemoglobin to be able to release it’s oxygen and make it accessible to cells. This is the Bohr effect.
So high levels of carbon dioxide there’s a lot more deposition of oxygen into cells, and low levels of carbon dioxide, you might get increased blood flow, but you might not get entry of oxygen into cells. When oxygen enters cells, you get much better healing, and also, you get much more energy. So for example a cell can run off glucose, glucose is a simple sugar, and glucose is used as the fuel to be burnt, for that particular cell, will get two molecules of ATP, the energy source of the cell, for every one glucose burnt. But, if you burn glucose in the presence of oxygen you get 38 molecules of ATP, so it’s 19 times more energy can be generated in the presence of oxygen. Funnily enough cancer cells don’t function with this oxygen method, they don’t work on the aerobic pathway, they only have anaerobic metabolism happening. So it’s not to say that the presence of oxygen will kill cancer cells, or the absence of oxygen causes cancer, but rather healthy cells, will not do very well, and cancer cells will do very well, in low levels of oxygen. Whereas with high levels of oxygen, healthy cells do very well, and cancer cells don’t necessarily do very much better than normal. So cancer, sometimes, is said to be helped if you can get more oxygen into your cells, and one of the ways of doing that is by putting it in a high CO2 environment, and one of the ways of generating high carbon dioxide is using either kumbhaka or minimal breathing which is Sanskrit terms is Kevalya kumbhaka, which is the type of breathing that happens when you sit in meditation. And on a graphical level that’s a little breath in a little breath out little breath in little breath out, which looks like a straight line. Same as if you inhaled, held the breath in, looks like a straight line. But to simulate a straight line also, you could do a very slow breath in, if I inhaled fast, the line goes up dramatically, but if I inhale slower, the line goes up slower still. If I inhale and I take one minute to inhale, the line goes up so slowly, that from a distance it looks like a parallel line and so very slow inhales, of say one minute for an inhalation would simulate kumbhaka on a physiological level.
ANTHONY: That’s interesting as Krishnamacharya was talking all the time about long slow breathing,
SIMON: That’s what long slow breathing is. And I think in the modern world, people imagine, you know in a common vinyasa class, some people say, deep breath in take up your arms, deep breath slow breath out take down your arms, so of course that’s only 3 seconds breathing in three seconds breathing out. Where as Krishnamacharya was talking much more about one minute inhalations.
ANTHONY: Slow, as in pouring the oil.
SIMON: That’s right. They also talk about when the exhalation comes out, it should be so fine that you can’t blow out a candle from a certain distance. And there’s also the beautiful videos that Iyengar has put out, where he’s breathing with a microphone and you hear the sound of Ujjayi, and he inhales for 45 seconds and exhales for 55 seconds.
SIMON: It’s beautiful, yeah.
ANTHONY: We’re quite aware of the benefits of using kumbhaka in Pranayama, and you’ve talked about in meditation getting a similar effect by breathing very shallowly. Iin Asana, Krishnamacharya is quite surprising, when you look at the yoga Makaranda, in that he is using kumbhaka in Asana, and while we’ve been here on the Yoga Rainbow Festival, we’ve been talking about using kumbhaka, in asana, and we were talking about how we could, you said, for example about, getting oxygen and co2 to the two, and how did you put it?
ANTHONY: If there’s not enough carbon dioxide there, you won’t be able to transport the oxygen from the oxyhaemoglobin to the cells. So you need CO2.
So then we were talking about how we could um, one of the interesting things about Kumbhaka in Asana was that it seemed there might be the possibility that you could direct the blood that you’ve effected with your kumbhaka to different areas of the body. So for example if I’m doing a posture where, a certain area is perhaps compressed, and then when I release it, perhaps when I’m doing my vinyasa, the blood, could perhaps flow into that area. In Ramaswami he talks about shoulder stands, where we would have the legs very relaxed, and the idea seems to be to let the blood kind of drop away, and when we straighten the legs and tense, we are then sending the blood straight through, so it seemed to me, that if relax the blood drains away slightly, we’re doing a kumbhaka, and then we extend our legs, the new kumbhaka co2 infused blood, then flies through that area. Does that make sense?
SIMON: Yeah it does make sense.
ANTHONY: Why does that make sense?
Well I’ve measured, ten different ways you can move blood through the body, other than the heart. One of them includes using the muscles of breathing, another uses the effect of carbon dioxide. So, carbon dioxide when it builds up, not only helps the bohr effect, but also causes vasodilation. 11;48?? The blood vessels of the body, so for examples the blood vessels to the brain would get larger, more open, and allow greater entry of blood to the brain, also to the heart, and several other places in the body.
ANTHONY: Is that why we do Jalandhara Bandha?
SIMON: Yes, because otherwise you get too much transmission of energy back and forth to the head. So carbon dioxide can have this vasodilation effect. It also effects the bronchial tubes, it’ll make them vasodilate it also effects pretty much every tube in the body, it makes the stomach dilate, the bladder wall dilate, stuff like this. So that’s one effect that comes from breathing, especially from kumbhaka in terms of long kumbhakas, where the breath is held long enough to increase co2 in which ever way you do that. But the other effect that Pranayama can have on blood flow is that you can use the muscles of breathing to pull the air in and out of you. For example if I expand my chest, the expansion will cause a suction, that pulls air into my nostrils, but if I close my nostrils, either with my fingers or my glottis, I close the holes in my face and expand my chest, as if I’m taking a breath into the chest but not, then you get uddiyana bandha. And so, use of the muscles of breathing will cause various increases and decreases in pressure in the body, and those increase and decreases in pressure will push and pull blood. So if I exhale fully that going to push blood away from my chest, that actually slows the entry of blood into the heart. If you inhale to the chest that pulls blood toward the heart, and actually increases heart rate, and that’s well recorded in medical texts. But then if you hold your breath, and while holding the breath in you compress your chest that’s an even more powerful way of moving the blood through the body. And similarly if you hold your breath out and then you expand your chest like breathing in but not, this is using bandha with Kumbhaka, that moves the blood a lot more.
ANTHONY: So this would allow us to practice without increasing the heart rate.
SIOMON: It can give you control of your heart rate certainly. But it also helps you move blood through your body in different ways, plus with the movement of blood through the body there is also the possibility of taking increased or decreased amounts of carbon dioxide, which can help with the bohr effect and which can help with vasodilation, and also increase levels of oxygen, and blood carrying oxygen as well. The effect of carbon dioxide is also going to effect the ph levels inside the blood as well. And ph levels are very significant in terms of the effect on things like stem cell production. So holding the breath can also effect how stem cells are produced and how well they’re moved throughout the body, and stem cells of course can turn into any cells in the body. And so a lot of research in the world is being done nowadays to try and work out the best ways of harvesting stems and increasing endogenous production of stem cells.
ANTHONY: Can you explain a bit more about how the ph in the body is effected. I mean you talked for several days, while we’ve been talking about the ph, increasing alkaline or decreasing and how certain kumbhakas can have an effect, you also talked about diet effecting that. So how the kumbhakas we’re using the diet we’re using, how all these factors can have an effect on the ………..
SIMON: Effect on everything, ph can effect almost everything in the body. The body will only work properly between a very narrow ph of 7.35 and 7.45 that’s when you get the healthiest things happening. But the ph is effected by how you breath, how long you breath in for, how long you breath out for, how many breaths per minute, what type of air you’re breathing. It can also be effected by what you eat as well. So if you eat very acidic foods that will make your blood acidic, if you eat alkaline foods, that will make your blood alkaline, if you breath a lot of air per minute, that will make you very alkaline, because the more you breath the more you blow off carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide in blood or water becomes carbonic acid.
ANTHONY: I remember reading your book, and you were saying at the end of the practice, depending on your ph levels, at the end of the practice you might feel famished and just stuff your face, or you won’t feel that hungry at all. So for example after Pranayama generally you don’t feel very hungry. But after practice, often people just, will just eat anything. . .
SIMON: Yes, and they use the excuse that they’ve just had a work out, therefore they should be able to eat more. But if you do Pranayama while you practice, if you don’t breath much while you practice, then you’re not hungry, and so that would be coming as a result of creating significant levels of carbon dioxide while you’re practicing, doing Pranayama while you’re practicing, or just not breathing much while you’re practicing, and this co2 will cause an increase in carbonic acid which will lower your ph levels and then instead of craving acidic foods you will be more craving alkaline foods or nothing. Whereas if you breath a lot during your practice which will blow off carbon dioxide, reduce your carbonic acid levels, increase your ph, you will feel unbalanced. Your ph will be increased, too alkaline, and if your ph is increased and you are too alkaline the symptoms include sensitivity of the nerves, your nerves might start to shake, you might start to feel emotional, you’ll feel weak, you’ll feel hypersensitive also the blood vessels to the brain will be constricted and you’ll feel like your dizzy, lightheaded, so the body will know, we need acidity in our body now, and the quickest way to get acidity into your body will be to eat acidic foods. A good stodgy meal, some breads some rice. Alkaline food fruit and vegetable, pretty much everything else meat, fish, eggs, bread, rice, that’s all going to be acidic in the body and will make you straight away feel grounded. And grounded means more blood goes to the brain and the nervous system calms down. But you can also become grounded by doing something like meditation. Because meditation also causes co2 to be built up because you’re not breathing much in meditation. And so that co2 build up is one of the main reasons why you feel relaxed after doing meditation, because co2 has built up.
ANTHONY: So again, if we have an integrated practice, where we are doing our asana, pranayama and meditation and we’re coming out of our practice . . .
SIMON: Not hungry and feeling very grounded.
ANTHONY: And fancying some fruit rather than a steak.
SIMON: Yes if you’re going to eat anything, you’re more likely to eat some fruit. And so you can also do pranayama in the postures if you either do long slow breathing or you do meditative breathing which is more like natural breath in postures, which is what Iyengar teaches. Or if you do kumbhaka like Krishnamacharya teaches. And of course the simplest kumbhaka is just to pause at the end of the in breath and pause at the end of the out breath, and not change the muscles of inhalation or exhalation at all. But more complex pranayama would include bandha, like Krishnamacharya demonstrated in his videos, where at the end of the exhalation you can do a full uddiyana bandha, nauli, nauli hi, and at the end of the inhalation you would not just hold the breath in but you could activate the muscles of chest exhalation, muscles we use for forced exhalation from the chest. 19:53 Like when you force the air out of the chest you can do this. So if I breath in now for example, 19:59 my air is fully in my lungs, my chest is expanded, but if I hold the breath in I can compress the chest 20:05 and that chest compression will increase the inter-thoracic pressure and that will actually push blood away from the chest, reduce the blood coming into my heart. That can have a very powerful effect on the body. You could do it in asana as a Valsalva maneuver. When you do this, in western terms it’s called a Valsalva maneuver. So a Valsalva maneuver has been studied extensively you can Google it and read a lot, learn a lot about how people do this in Yoga. Valsalva maneuver is when you take a full breath in, you hold the breath in and make a false attempt at exhalation. There’s another one called the Muller maneuver, where you exhale fully, this is also a scientific medical term, hold the breath out, and make a false attempt at inhalation.
SIMON: I will inhale fully into my abdomen and into my chest, hold the breath in and then I’m going to pretend to exhale from my abdomen and my chest. To help you appreciate I’m pretending I’m going to hold my nose. 21:48 Let me do it again, so you can see I can also expand or contract.
So it looks like I’m breathing, but I’m not breathing, I’m activating my muscles of inhalation and exhalation while actually holding my breath in. And that act of trying to breath out, having held the breath in is called a Valsalva Maneuver. It’s very well studied there are hundreds of papers about it. There are many physiological effects. Many of them can be healing effects. There are also a few negative effects, such as when weightlifters do this, weightlifters do exactly that inhale, pick up the weight, and and they exhale once the weight is lifted. A valsalva maneuver can help you increase strength and you pointed out that Krishnamacharya has actually said to do this while doing lolasana, it’s very usuable, you actually see people all round the world doing this intuitively because they know it makes them feel stronger.
ANTHONY: So Krishnamacharya when he does his jump throughs, jump backs, he is doing it on a kumbhaka.
Yes, and that’s what he wrote in Makaranda right? So that was a surprise to me that he wrote that, because Pattabhi Jois doesn’t teach that. He teaches inhale, and you inhale diaphragmatically, and I’ll come to that in a moment. That’s what can be used to increase strength, but when weightlifters are studied doing this their blood pressure increases from a normal blood pressure of 120 over 70 to a very intense blood pressure of 380 over 360 which to me says that they’re super yogis of sorts, but actually they could also burst a blood vessel in the brain very easily. So it’s potentially very dangerous to do a Valsalva maneuver.
So this is what could be called a Muller Maneuver, is by the medical definition, a full exhalation and then a false attempt at inhalation. 24:33 So the act of pretending to breath in the chest looks like uddiyana bandha. But it’s not the uddiyana bandha that some people use. Many people say that uddiyana bandha is something to do with hardening the abdomen. But actually the uddiyana bandha that BKS Iyengar described in his book, that many yoga texts describe is actually, purely and simply an expansion of the chest, the same way you would breath into the chest but without breathing. But it is done without tightening the abdomen at all.
ANTHONY: The problem with tightening the abdomen is you’re restricting the diaphragm.
SIMON: Well the problem with tightening the abdomen to do this is that it wouldn’t work very well. If someone tightens their abdomen and then tries to expand the chest, it doesn’t lift up as high, because the rib cage is being pulled down. But it depends on what muscles you tighten the abdomen with. I can tighten my abdomen at the same time, I can use my muscles of forced exhalation to tighten the abdomen while doing my muscles of chest inhalation. I can use my muscles of abdominal exhalation 25:51 So then perhaps you could see the two external oblique muscles coming on and that indicates that I was using my external obliques in exactly the same way that I would use to make a forced abdominal exhalation. So that was activating my muscles of chest inhalation and my muscles of abdominal forced exhalation while holding the breath out. And that’s a combination of a Valsalva and Muller maneuver at the same time on exhalation retention.
But a real Valsalva Maneuver and a real Muller Maneuver are very hard to explain because if I talked to a cardiologist and I say to them, what is a Valsalva Maneuver, they’ll give you the description I just gave, but if I say to them, what should I be trying to exhale with, my abdomen or my chest? They’ll say what do you mean? And I’ll say is this the Valsalva Maneuver 27:03? In other words am I trying to exhale with my chest, or my abdomen, or both? And they’ll look at you in surprise and say I didn’t even know you could do that. And then of course a Muller Maneuver is a false attempt at inhalation, so this is an inhalation 27:19 with the chest, this is an inhalation with the abdomen. And I’ll say to the cardiologist which type of Muller Maneuver do you want? Do you want a false inhale to the abdomen or the chest, because this is a chest inhalation 27:38 this is a false abdominal inhalation 27:42 and of course I could do both. One looks like uddiyana bandha, one looks like some very esoteric yoga who knows what, but I could pretend to inhale to my abdomen and my chest at the same time 28:00. And that’s actually very very difficult.
ANTHONY: And what would be the benefit of doing that? Why would we do that?
SIMON: The chest muscles are going one way the diaphragm is going the other way and it creates a tremendous suction. You can get a similar effect by doing nauli. The effect that’s more common and more easy that also creates that of this going up and this going down 28:28 That’s using my rectus abdominis to push the abdome out. What I did before was use my diaphragm, to push the abdomen out. And that’s very stressful because when you expand the chest,that pulls the diaphragm up, when you breath diaphragmatically that pulls the chest down. So to do a complete breath for most people is very difficult. This is a complete breath 28:58. I inhaled into my abdomen and then into my chest but most people when they try that do this 29:06 and once the chest starts expanding the abdomen goes in, to actually inhale to the abdomen keep and expand and then inhale to the chest that for most people is very very difficult. In fact most people if you ask them to breath into the chest with the abdomen relaxed one in ten people can do it, nine in ten can’t. Most people can only breath into the chest with the abdomen tight. By doing that they also make themselves quite stressed.
During practice often that’s what people are doing.
Most people are breathing into the chest by inhibiting the diaphragm and if you inhibit the diaphragm the whole time you don’t have diaphragmatic strength power, you also don’t have good digestive ability, good reproductive function, good immune system function because the diaphragm is the main controller of the parasympathetic nervous system. So unless your diaphragm is really freely able to breath the whole way through your practice you are potentially inhibiting digestive, immune and reproductive function. And you are basically stimulating a sympathetic nervous system response, the fight or flight response. And that fear anger and aggression that comes with the fight or flight response doesn’t sound like yoga to me. You know, whereas if you’re in the parasympathetic nervous system then that’s going to be promoting love and peace and harmony. But to feel parasympathetic response you must be able to breath diaphragmatically. And so this is where Pattabhi Jois changed what Krishnamacharya was teaching he said that when you lift to Tolasana you do inhale, hold the breath, and then lift up in the air, whereas what Pattabhi Jois teaches, is he say you inhale while you lifting up in the air. And the only way you can do that is by contracting the chest and then activating the rectus abdominus and then breathing in, and then you can breath diaphragmatically. But if you try and exhale into the tummy and inhale into the chest while trying to lift into the air, most people can’t lift up in the air. And you can see this when you do something like a half sit up 31:17 Lolasana, PJ says inhale into that posture, but if you inhale to the chest there’s no power. If you inhale to the abdomen with the abdomen soft, there’s no power. But if you make this contraction 31:36 to tighten the abdomen, then inhale diaphragmatically, then it’s possible to lift up, and you feel power. The way you can show that to someone, because not everyone can do that posture is you can do a simple version of lolasana which is this 31:52 This is what I call a simple version of Lolasana, I do a half sit up and you can see it’s the same shape as Lolasana but in the half sit up it obliges the rectus abdominus to work. But nothing else has to work. And in this position this doesn’t inhibit the diaphragm. So I can breath diaphragmatically as I sit up, everything’s relaxed. But if I exhale fully and draw the navel to the spine and keep it firm here I can’t breath here. Unless I release the muscles of exhalation. If I try and sit up it stresses my neck, and if I try and sit up further the abdomen pushes out. So a person who’s trying to hold their abdomen in and breathe either into the abdomen or into the chest will have no power and often neck pain if they do it in sit up. You can actually lift up but it’s very stressful, it’s much easier to lift up into a sit up or a half or Lolasana if you just simply engage the rectus abdominus and simultaneously inhale diaphragmatically. But the rectus abdominus in this pose and in Lolasana will hold the ribcage down so it’s very difficult to inflate the chest now because the ribs are held in.
ANTHONY: Generally in Ashtanga we tend to, the belly tends to be drawn in slightly, throughout, which is restricting our diaphragmatic breathing.
SIMON: It can and it can’t
But you were talking earlier about how we can do a similar effect of drawing the belly in using similar muscles and allow ourselves to breathe more diaphragmatically.
SIMON: And this I can show you 33:36
This is my relaxed baby abdomen. Now if I tighten my abdomen with the muscles of exhalation, the abdomen is drawn in. Now if I tighten my abdomen with the same muscles that we use to do Lolasana, that’s this 33:54 looks the same on the outside. But if I put your fingers into my soft abdomen, this is tightening my abdomen using my exhalation muscles 34:04 and then this is using my muscles that one would use for Lolasana 34:10 which is the rectus abdominus. And so the muscles of exhalation drawn the abdomen in, the muscles of Lolasana push the abdomen out but relative to relaxed baby belly both of them appear to draw the abdomen in. But when you use the muscles of exhalation if I now try and breathe diaphragmatically I can’t because it goes to the chest. Whereas if I use Lolasana (rectus abdominus) now I breathe diaphragmatically, I can breathe fine in my diaphragm. But I have a firmness, I have an abdomen that is drawn in, a little bit at least, and I have relaxation and strength.
ANTHONY: So if we breathe like this we can basically increase our diaphragmatic breathing throughout our whole practice it’s gonna effect how calm you are heart rate, it’s going to effect the degree to which we are sweating and our breathing is going to ??????? as well.
SIMON: Yes because if you use muscles of abdominal exhalation it’s a little bit like tying a noose around your neck, people die from that, you don’t get blood to the brain, so if you tie a noose round here (waist) you don’t get blood to the legs, but the blood needs to come to the legs, so the heart says better pump faster. But if this (belly) is expanded, firmly expanded, the heart can easily push blood through without pumping faster.
I mention my friend Mick in the interview as a case study fro the effects of Kumbhaka. I was lucky enough to have Mick join me for a workshop I was giving at Stillpoint Yoga the weekend before last, at the end of the workshop Mick gave a presentation I just asked him on fb if it's OK to post the hndout here.
MICK: "Cool. No problems. As long as you indicate its just a "rough" guide. The lengths of breaths and Kumbhakas can be varied depending on where your at with it. There's no rules. So inhales / exhales might just be 5 secs to begin with and retentions 2 secs. You build it up slowly. I think I mention that in the notes anyway. I don't have access to them at moment.
Same with the CO2 increasing pranayamas. People may find they have to shorten the lengths to begin with and build it up over time.
Also I didn't put in the notes - like you I tend to stay in pashimottanasana for more cycles of the breath. Same with shoulder stands and headstands"..
from Simon's book Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga
Preparing for the interview
Simon's YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/user/yogasynergy
Some extra background info from Simon on topics raised in this Interview from his Yogasynergy blog https://blog.yogasynergy.com click on the title to continue reading.
To Breathe or Not to Breathe!
Is it Correct to ‘Pull the Navel towards the Spine’? Answer: Yes and No!
Many people in the world of yoga, Pilates and fitness tell their clients and students to do something like ‘pull the navel to the spine’. If you google this expression you find articles that give a flurry of controversy on whether on not it is a good idea to ’pull the navel to the spine’.
In this video, exercise-based physiotherapist and yoga teacher Simon-Borg Olivier, discusses core stability and different ways to interpret the instruction “pull the navel to the spine”. This can be a confusing instruction and is often misunderstood, depending on the experience and the body of the practitioner.
However, just what exactly does it mean to ’pull the navel to the spine’. It turns out that when people are given this instruction they actually appear to move the navel towards the spine in 3 main ways. Neither of these ways can be said to be wrong or right as such, but they do have different effects....
Exhale for Pleasure, Strength and Freedom
In this short video below I discuss the seven main ways you can exhale and how by understanding and mastering these ways of exhalation you can stimulate the pleasure centres of your brain, improve core strength, save energy, reduce stress, make your spine more mobile and flexible, and massage your internal organs to improve the function of your digestive system, immune system and reproductive system.
The body can derive benefit from making passive minimal exhalations, which are seemingly effortless and help promote a calm restful state; and complete exhalations, which benefit the body by eliminating toxins from the body in the ‘stale’ air. The seven (7) main ways to exhale shown in this video and some of their applications are as follows:
1. Passive Abdominal Exhale
2. Passive Chest Exhale
3. Passive Postural Exhale
4. Active Postural Exhale
5. Forced Oblique Abdominal Exhale
6. Transverse Abdominis (TA) Exhale
7. Active Chest Exhale
Preview of Simon's excellent book Applied Anatomy & Physiology of Yoga
Also information on Simon's Online Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga
See also my earlier post on Simon's book
The nine bandhas (yes Nine) in the APPLIED ANATOMY & PHYSIOLOGY OF YOGA of Simon Borg-oliver and Bianca Machliss
And this just in a blogtalkradio interview today
Five Things that Block Energy and 10 Ways to Move Them With Simon Borg-Olivier