Friday, 6 March 2015

The breath: Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with asana all over again.

The breath! 

I'd started to feel that asana was getting in the way of the breath....  I'm falling in love with asana all over again.

Thank you Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss

All I've been interested in lately is the breath, breathing more and more slowly, kumbhaka,  exploring longer stays and at one point I was only half joking to Peg Mulqueen that I was tempted to explore forty minutes in tadasana.

When Krishnamacharya talked about 15 minutes to three hours in mayurasana was he joking, he didn't seem one to joke, not back in the Mysore days. And what about ten minutes in Chatauranga, fifteen in upward facing dog, is that even possible. And again, Jessica Walden's slow slow lifts with the breath in her arm balances, the breath all about the breath.

But here's Simon Borg-Olivier with a reminder of posture,  of movement, take the first two short videos below, we don't need to tighten the abdomen, a slight shift of posture (lean forward while standing for example and the abdomen is firm at the frount and yet relaxed at the sides, we can breathe 'into the abdomen', stay relaxed, it's a more subtle breath, longer stays become possible... perhaps in Mayurasana ( see previous post).

I'm excited again about asana, posture, movement. I already loved Simon's talk on theory but his practice had seemed a little.... dancelike to me, looking at it closer I see at times,  that there's more of a Tai Chi aspect to it ( Update: Thank you to Andrea for this link http://youtu.be/OUmXyk15p2U), those subtle movements, shifts of weight, engagement of different muscles, moving energy around the body ( think it this aspect also comes from Simon's time with Zhander Remete (Shadow Yoga) , Simon also studied with Iyengar for a long time and Pattabhi Jois also) and Simon should know, with his background in Molecular biology and later Anatomy and physiotherapy.... I don't turn of or glaze over when I hear him discuss energy in the body. 

What is Prana
Prana (aka Chi, Qi, Ki) in the body includes energy in the form of:

Electrical energy
Heat energy
Glucose and other energy carrying molecules
ATP (and other energy carrying molecules
Electromagnetic radiation
What is Chitta (Citta):

Citta (consciousness) in the body includes information in the form of:

Neurotransmitters
Immunotransmitters
Hormones
Electric signals
Electronic signals
Electrochemical signals
Electric fields
Magnetic fields
Electromagnetic fields



The great teachers brought their talent's, gifts, skills and past teaching/experience together into their own explorations, own radical enquiry, that for me is Yoga. 

Here's Simon then in his 28 part Spinal sequence tutorial on Youtube with accompanying posts on his blog with transcriptions and notes ( titles below are linked to the blog). I've chosen five of my favourites, watch the first two and see if you're hooked like I was.

One can explore the breath and posture through the spinal sequence in an extra evening practice perhaps ( moon days, Saturday if you're an Ashtangi) or explore how we can introduce these principles subtle shifts of posture and breath into our own practice as I am, to make it safer, more effective perhaps.

I'm adding Simon's demonstration of the whole sequence at the end as well as an Advanced version to show what is possible with a relaxed abdomen.

I'll also put links to Simon's and Bianca's website, Blog, book and online 'Anatomy and Physiology' and 'Yoga fundamentals' course.

I spent time with Simon on the Yoga Rainbow Festival in Turkey last year, I was humbled to be teaching on the same festival as him and it was a great pleasure to sit over dinner, walk up and down mountains asking questions and discussing all things yoga. He's light, fun, the best company but pass him an academic paper and he's all scientist, checking references. I'm looking forward to spending time again with this warm generous man, my friend and teacher.

See my Interview with Simon on  this post 




Introduction

"The key to effective spinal movements and core stabilisation is to always be able to breathe into the abdomen using the diaphragm and always initiate each spinal movement from the region of the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5). Once you release the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation that many people habitually use to ‘engage their core’ using abdominal breathing or at least the feeling that you can breathe into the abdomen, then the spine is free to move from its base at the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5) near the sacrum. Once you move your spine using the internal forces (trunk muscles) rather than external forces such as gravity, the use of another limb or momentum, then this will create tremendous core strength. In other words to move the spine you must initiate movement from the core with a sense that the core feels relaxed enough to breathe there. At this point the abdomen may feel quite soft to touch. However, once the movement begins the abdomen begins to firm because it is moving. This is an important key to functional mobile core strength and a pain free back".





Video Transcript:

“I’d like to demonstrate a serious of postures and movements which will mobilise my spine, my hips and my shoulders. But it’s not just the anatomy of my body that I am trying to mobilise, manipulate, strengthen and stretch, I am also working on my physiology. The main thing that is going to make the physiology of this movement and practice work is diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is not possible if you constantly engage the muscles that one would normally use to exhale
fully. So instead of tightening the muscles normally one would use to exhale fully, something which people often do in order to protect their spine and commonly called “core stabilisation”, I’ll be using my arms and my legs, movements from my hips and shoulders, to firm my abdomen. Then I will still be able to breathe from my abdomen and make the diaphragmatic breath that will help to nourish and nurture the nervous system, the immune system, the reproductive system and the digestive system. I’ll describe what I am doing as I go along (in the next few video blogs).”


Video Transcript:

“In the beginning I am standing with legs hip width apart as it gives a slightly wider base of support. I lean further forward with my hips and my armpits. This gives a reflex activation of the abdominal muscles so now if I breathe into the abdomen it will hardly move. Whereas if I lean back where one normally stands and breathe into the abdomen you will see a noticeable expansion in the abdomen. This same diaphragmatic breathing if you lean forward, the abdomen draws inwards naturally. If I breathe into the abdomen now, it’s firm but calm. Diaphragmatic breathing will allow you to feel calm.”




ITS BEST NOT TO BE FEELING A STRETCH IN THE BACK OF THE LEGS AND THE SPINE AT THE SAME TIME.

Because I moved in the way I did (up until this video segment), I’ve come to a point now where my body is warmed up enough that it doesn’t feel like a stretch to take the head to the knee. It’s a mistake to stretch the spine and the hamstrings at the same time. The misconception that some people have when they start to do stretching is that they see people who bring the head to the knee, people who are used to stretching, and this might make some people say that they are doing a very good stretch. When in fact for me now that I am warmed up I am not stretching I am just resting my head on my knee. Not only can my head comfortably touch to my knee the same way that one might bend the elbow, no sense of stretching just a movement also my leg has enough strength to come to my head, it’s not a stretch it’s a movement. It’s all right to stretch the back of the leg provided the spine is straight. But if you lengthen my spine as I am doing now and have the back of the leg feeling like it’s stretching that’s where danger can come in and the spine might be at risk. So if it’s first thing in the morning for example, and I am stiff and start to go forward and feel the back of the leg stretching I will either keep my spine straight or if I want to bend my spine I will bend the leg as well. And that keeps the movement safe instead of potentially damaging the lower back muscles, the structure of the spine itself or the spinal nerves.

USING YOUR BREATH WITH STHIRA SUKHAM ASANAM (TO BE FIRM BUT CALM)

Of course you can get away with doing this if you harden the abdomen with the muscles of exhalation. So if I breathe in here [See demonstration of breathing into the abdomen], and then exhale gently and relaxed as I’ve done there [See demonstration of relaxed exhalation] with the abdomen soft the lungs are not fully empty. Also, to exhale fully you are required to tighten the muscles of exhalation. These are circular muscles that go all around the bottom of the trunk. So you see my fingers in my abdomen now, if I tighten my exhalation muscles, the trunk moves inwards away from my fingers. So it’s like I’ve wrapped a belt around my lower waist. This gives a certain amount of abdominal firmness and protects my back if I’m doing a lifting exercise or a straining or stretching exercise.
But the problem is because I’ve used the muscles of exhalation to tighten my abdomen that straight away reciprocally relaxes or inhibits the main muscles of inhalation which is the diaphragm. So it means then with the diaphragm inhibited there is an inhibition of the organs that the diaphragm helps to control and stimulate, including the reproductive system, the immune system, and the digestive system.
Also with these belt muscles contracted and pulling the whole spine inwards it blocks the energy and information from the trunk to the legs. So then to pump the blood to the legs the heart has to work a lot harder, the lungs have to work a lot harder. So, the movements that I am trying to do should not have to tighten all of these things if I want to stay calm. In the Hatha Yoga tradition of India there is only one description of physical exercise. It’s only one sentence. It says “Sthiram Sukham Asanam”. It means physical exercise should be with firmness but with calmness. It’s learning how to do stressful things in a relaxing way. So to protect the back I need to be firm. But to keep calm diaphragmatic breathing and stimulation of the para-sympathetic nervous system is important. The funny thing is that once you learn this you will not only be protected but it will give you tremendous strength. So if someone is just tightening the abdomen like this [See demonstration of pulling the abdomen inwards] they cannot breathe from their diaphragm. So, then what tends to happen is that their chest expands. When the chest expands it makes the body weaker. If the abdomen expands it also makes the body weaker. So when you see adept practitioners of eastern forms of exercise including the Chinese Martial Arts or the Indian Hatha Yoga – there’s also Indian Martial Arts and Chinese Yoga as well, but they all relate – you never see adept practitioners expand their abdomen or their chest. You can use the analogy of the balloon which a child blows up as opposed to the tyre of a car, when you blow a balloon up it gets bigger but the walls actually get thinner and less strong. Whereas when you add more air to a car tyre the walls don’t get any larger but actually the more air coming into the tyre allows it to become much stronger. So you can actually put a ten tonne truck on a hard walled tyre filled with air but something which expands like a balloon will just burst if you put more air into it. So the chest and the abdomen are the same. An in-breath which expands the chest will only make the spine weaker. An in-breath which expands the abdomen will only make you weaker. So in the Martial Arts, in Hatha Yoga it’s always said that you should breathe diaphragmatically but with firmness. So if I breathe diaphragmatically standing normally the abdomen puffs out. But if all I do is push the sitting bones forward the front of the abdomen automatically goes firm and the sides are relaxed. Then if I breathe into the abdomen it doesn’t move but because it’s a diaphragmatic breath I stay calm.



The same principle is used in things like handstands. So if I bring my arms up in the air initially and lengthen the spine, slightly extending the spine as well, and then bring my hands to the floor, as I moving towards the floor I am pushing the hips forward throughout. I lean onto the hands and lift the head up. Lifting the upper back and pushing the sitting bones towards the hands firms the front of the abdomen. Simply breathing into my abdomen (firmed by posture), or rather breathing with my diaphragm into the abdomen causes an increase in the intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure which straight away puts strength into my arms. Here I simply breathe into the abdomen as my legs are lifting and the instant strength comes to the body. It doesn’t feel like a strain to lift the body. Whereas you can lift up to a handstand with just brute force.

A lot of weightlifters will do lifting exercises using what’s called a Valsalva manoeuvre. Where you make an in-breath then hold the breath and then tense all the muscles of exhalation. In so doing you also increase intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure and intra-cranial pressure as well. This gives you more strength in the arms but the problem is that a weightlifters blood pressure has been shown to go up from a normal level of 120/70 to extreme levels of 380/360. And so there’s a risk then that if you use the Valsalva manoeuvre for strength exercises such as lifting weights or handstands that you risk bursting a blood vessel in your head, or your heart, have a heart attack or a stroke and just increase a lot of stress at the same time. So the trick is to remain very calm and breathe with your diaphragm into an abdomen firmed by posture (as opposed to tension).



In this part, Simon Borg-Olivier, explains the benefits of breathing less than normal (hypoventilation) and role of increased levels of carbon di-oxide in increasing circulation of blood to the brain and other parts of the body, as well as increasing the transfer of oxygen into the cells of the body (via the Bohr effect). It is also possible to use the muscles of breathing and the breath itself for other reasons, for example you can use the muscle of breathing to help relax muscles, to increase strength and to mobilise the spine, and this can include sometimes breathing more than normal. However, the most important reason to breathe is to get oxygen to the cells this is done best when you increase carbon di-oxide levels by breathing less than normal, or at least by breathing naturally.



Edited Video Transcript and Notes:

One of the deepest movements that is considered to be a tremendous cleansing exercise, called in India Hatha Yoga a Kriya, is Nauli, which uses the movements of the hips to activate the spinal muscles and turns your trunk into one heart. So the same way the heart will work to pump the blood, by compressing the first chamber and pushing the blood to the second chamber, second chamber of the heart expands and pulls the blood from the first to the second. You can make your spine move the same way. So I will demonstrate (in the next Blog – Spinal Movement Sequence (Part 24)) making the right side of my abdomen firm and the left side relaxed, pushing the blood from the right to the left side. Then the left side of the abdomen firm and the right side relaxed so it pushes the blood the other way. This movement then is exactly what I was doing in the side and forward bend but in a much more rapid and direct way. This exercise is done without breathing. This exercise is done while holding the breath out which builds tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide inside the body. Physiologically carbon dioxide reacts in very positive ways:

1. Carbon dioxide increases the diameter of the blood vessels that go to the brain, so you get more oxygen to your brain.

2. Carbon dioxide increases the blood vessel diameter going to the heart, so actually you get more blood and more oxygen to your brain and to your heart when you’re holding the breath out for a long time, and for a longer period of time holding the breath in.

3. Carbon dioxide, when it builds up in the form of carbonic acid, will cause the vessels that go to your lungs to expand. So, say for example if someone has asthma the constriction in the vessels going to the lungs often calls for a puffing device and these drugs are not necessarily going to be helpful for you in the long run. But if you simply answer the call of nature when you have an asthma attack, which is making your lungs give a wheezing affect, it’s the body telling you to stop breathing, that it’s hard to breathe, so stop. It’s often a surprise to a person who is asthmatic that if they just stop breathing for a minute and allow carbon dioxide to build up this immediately bronchodilates the vessels to the lungs and then an in-breath is much easier.

4. The other significant effect of carbon dioxide build up is called a Bohr effect. The Bohr effect means that carbon dioxide is necessary to be present in any part of the body for haemoglobin to actually deposit its oxygen molecule when it arrives. So, say for example the big toe needs oxygen. You might be able to get blood to the big toe but if there is no carbon dioxide in your big toe then the haemoglobin will then just leave with its oxygen because it needs to swap it for the carbon dioxide. This is a lay explanation, but it helps makes people appreciate that exercise is not something where you are trying to breathe more. Actually fitness comes if you can do more but breathe less. A physically fit person is one who can run 100 metres the same time and distance as someone who is not as fit, but you can tell they are fit because they are not breathing so much and their heart is not beating so much at the end.

So the adept Yogi is considered to measure their lifespan not by the number of years they live but rather by the number of breaths they take and by the number of beats their heart makes. So by practising in this way any sort of exercise, including simple walking, movements which cause the hips and shoulders to cause a firmness to come to the spine giving you core stabilisation, while breathing diaphragmatically this helps increase blood flow while not increasing heart rate. The other thing is that the more you learn to breathe less in your physical exercise practise while still emptying the lungs periodically , this builds up an acidity and that acidity, a gentle acidity of carbonic acid – it means you don’t crave to have acidity in your diet and you can eat a lot less. Whereas most people do the opposite. Most people breathe so much in exercise because often we are told to do so and this makes them very alkaline.

Hyper-ventilation makes you alkaline. This then makes you crave, after your exercise, acidic foods which are the more stodgy foods, the high protein foods, the processed foods, and drugs. So by breathing less and learning to hold the breath in as I’ll demonstrate now (in the next blog – Spinal Movement Sequence (Part 24)) while still doing exercise you get lots of benefits.



In this part, Simon Borg-Olivier explains that ‘core stabilisation’ (or the ability to firm the abdomen) should allow ‘core mobilisation’ (or freedom of movement). He shows how many people often tighten their abdomen using their muscles of forced abdominal exhalation in a way that inhibits their diaphragm from behaving naturally, causes excessive tension in their spine and trunk that can inhibit circulation and can actually prevent the relief of some back pain, and prevents the natural movement of spine and internal organs.


Edited Video Transcript with Notes:

Learning how to become stable in the trunk, keeping what conventional exercise call core stabilisation, it is really important to keep your spine safe whenever you are doing exercise or lifting work. But, often when people do it, especially with too much force and conscious control, then the muscles that they use to tighten the abdomen, which gives some protection for the spine will inhibit the muscles that we use to breathe in and keep us calm. This main muscles of breathing in is the diaphragm, which sits below the chest like a dome. As the diaphragm becomes active it moves downwards as it contracts and that makes the space above the diaphragm become essentially like a partial vacuum that pulls air inwards. But the diaphragm downwards movement pushes the abdomen outwards. So if you just stand relaxed and breathe in with your diaphragm the downwards movement of the diaphragm will cause air to come in and the tummy to puff out.

For most people if they breathe with the chest that’s only possible for most people if they’ve kept their abdomen firm using the muscles of exhalation. Many people in exercise will tighten their abdominal muscles in a way which inhibits the diaphragm. One muscle or muscle group will always inhibit the muscle group which is opposite in action. So the muscle that makes you breathe in to the abdomen (the diaphragm) will make the muscles that make you breathe out from the abdomen (transverse abdominus, abdominal external oblique and abdominal internal oblique) relax or ‘switch off’. Conversely, the muscles that make you breathe out from the abdomen (transverse abdominus, abdominal external oblique and abdominal internal oblique), when they’re active, will make the muscle that make you breathe in (the diaphragm), relax or ‘switch off’. So if you simply relax your abdomen it is possible to breathe in with the diaphragm, you’ll see my chest hardly move and the abdomen comes out. But if you exhale all the way which uses the muscles of forced exhalation, those muscles which include the external oblique muscles which you saw me demonstrate (in a previous video) and I’ll demonstrate again here now. So, I visualise these muscles called the external oblique muscles by doing exactly the same muscular grip that we do when we fully exhale which basically just takes the trunk and uses the circular muscles to just constrict and narrow. It’s like you’re trying to blow the air out by squeezing all of this region of the lower trunk. Many people will use those muscles, the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation, to stabilise and strengthen the spine, protect their back during lifting exercises and bending exercises. But the problem is that if these muscles are always kept active (switched on) then you are not able to comfortably use your diaphragm. The lack of diaphragm use will mean that the internal organs, the reproductive system, the immune system, the digestive system in particular, will not be functioning normally during your exercise and probably not functioning properly  during everyday life.

In addition when the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation are engaged strongly then it is very difficult to mobilise the spine, which means that the spine will feel stiff. If this happens in someone with back pain then Real Time Ultrasound (RTU) studies by physiotherapists and other researchers have repeatedly shown that it probably not improve the back pain and it may in fact be contributing to the back pain.


***

See also this post of Simon and Bianca and the breath

Breathing (Part 1): How to breathe to help your spine, internal organs and energy levels

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.

Demonstrations


Links

Simon Borg-Oliver and His business partner Bianca Machliss

http://blog.yogasynergy.com/

Website

http://yogasynergy.com/main/index.php

See also

an online course, which is looking tempting.


Yoga Synergy Online Teacher Training and Education

Preview of Simon's excellent book Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga
http://anatomy.yogasynergy.com/book

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

1 comment:

  1. Me too! Doing their anatomy course has been vert inspiring, adding more depth of understanding, linking it all up beautifully. Can't wait to go through this post very slowly this month. Finally completed the online course.

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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