Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Backbending: Supta Vajrasana, Advanced backbending and the effects of our breathing in asana (at a cellular level) Simon Borg-Olivier


In Krishnamacharya's Mysore books, written in the period he was teaching the young Pattabhi Jois Krishnamacharya gives instructions for introducing short kumbhakas (breath retentions) during the practice of asana. This was an option that for some reason was never carried over into Pattabhi Jois's teaching of Modern Ashtanga vinyasa, perhaps Pattabhi Jois considered it an advanced option.

The possible health benefits of Kumbhaka is something I discussed with Simon Borg-Olivier at the Yoga Rainbow festival we were both teaching at in 2014 ( see this interview).

Holding the breath in and out in a relaxed way (which is quite safe for most people in its simplest form) for significant periods (once minute ventilation is less than about 5 litres per minute) can be therapeutically very helpful as this builds up internal levels of carbon dioxide (and carbonic acid), which the been shown to:
* increase blood flow to the brain and heart
* increase broncho-dilation and thus increase oxygen transfer between the lungs and the blood
* calm the nervous system
* reduce appetite
* increase the entry of oxygen into the cells via the Bohr effect and thus potentially increases your energy levels by up to 18 times
* increase stem cell production 
Simon Borg-Olivier


Simon's original academic background was in Molecular Biology, he is well placed to consider the cellular effect of the breath but Simon also holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in Anatomy and Physiology and has been practicing and teaching yoga for decades.

Here is an excellent new video then from Simon that explains succinctly the effects of Kumbhaka in asana. Below that is the YouTube information Simon provides including a links to Simon and his business partner Bianca Machless' excellent blog and website. I recently attended one of Simon's online courses and can highly recommend it as well as his book ( links sit permanently in this blog's right sidebar).



The video (below) includes
(1) inhalation, which is initiated diaphragmatically (from the abdomen)
(2) holding the breath in while remaining relaxed
(3) holding the breath in while activating the muscles of forced exhalation from the abdomen and from the chest (which increases internal pressures and creates a type of Valsalva manoeuvre)
(4) exhalation from either chest then abdomen or form abdomen then chest (that massages the internal organs and enhances circulation)
(5) holding the breath out while remaining relaxed
(6) holding the breath out while activating the muscles of chest inhalation (which decreases internal pressures and creates a type of Mueller manoeuvre)
Simon Borg-Olivier

If you find Supt Vajrasana a little too advanced for you to explore these breathing options you might like to try tatkamudra (below), being a mudra you can explore it as part of your asana practice (slipped in before Shoulderstand perhaps) or practice separately from your regular asana practice. I have a video below on tatkamudra from my workshop in Moscow.

There is more from Simon on holding the breath (kumbhaka) later in the post as well as some advanced backbends built on supta vajrasana that serve as a companion piece to the first video below.

I will also add links to a few of my posts that give Krishnamacharya's Instructions for introducing the kumbhaka option into your practice whether Ashtanga vinyasa or otherwise.

The health benefits of Yoga have always been stressed, however many of the claims for Yoga may well be related to the kumbhaka option, an option that seems to be airbrushed out of modern yoga.

Proficiency in Yoga asana isn't about whether we can get ourselves into ever more impossible and photogenic promotional asana, the most seemingly basic of asana/postures can be explored with several levels of proficiency. Krishnamacharya wrote that we didn't need to practice all the asana (how could we, there are as many as the birds and beasts of the earth he said) but a few of us should but for the right reasons, to preserve them but also perhaps to explore the physiology of them as Simon does in his second video on advanced backbending further down the post.

But there's more, the kumbhaka is perhaps the soul of asana practice, what transforms a posture into yoga. In the Kumbhaka everything stops for just a few moments. For a few seconds our attention to our inhalation or exhalation ceases, the world drops away, there is perhaps just awareness of awareness, moments only but these moment join up throughout our practice, the end of every inhalation, every exhalation, asana after asana.

Krishnamacharya believed that in the kumbhaka we see god but it might also be the absence of god.

The goal of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is not union but developing a one pointed attention that we employ to reveal what we are not. As each misconception of who and what we are drops away all that is thought to be left is awareness and all that awareness has left to be aware of is itself, perhaps kumbhaka can gives us a hint, an encouraging glimpse of the ultimate goal of yoga and along with the health benefits reason enough to spend so much of our time practicing asana.


NB: I say a glimpse, a hint, because for Krishnamacharya and indeed Patanjali yoga, is an integrative practice. Krishnamacharya stressed that asana belongs within a practice that includes pranayama and the meditative limbs. The yama and niyama, the moral teaching too can give our lives the balance and discipline to work on the other limbs, Just as our asana practice can be a life long project so too are pranayama and meditation, they take years of practice, perhaps lifetimes and we should perhaps begin working on each limb now, today, however humbly, developing proficiency in all.


Here's Simon.


From the Youtube information
"In this two minute video Simon Borg-Olivier, physiotherapist and director of Yoga Synergy, demonstrates and describes the process and effects of, holding the breath in and holding the breath out, in the a supine posture (known in yoga as Supta virasana), where hips are extended and the knees flexed. This posture gives a really good lengthening and release of the psoas muscle and other hip flexors at the front of the hips that can really prevent and relieve lower back pain.

This posture also tensions (lengthens) the femoral nerve, which can enhance the strength and control of the lower limbs, and the stomach acupuncture meridian, which can help to relieve many digestive and reproductive system disorders as well relieving any feeling of fullness after a big meal. This posture is not suitable for everyone and is not recommended unless you can easily do it without feeling any sense of stretching in the front of the hips, and any sense of compression in the lower back, ankles or knees.

In this practice Simon describes how he is doing a advanced breath-control exercise (while patting his dog Max!) that can really help to improve the physiology of the body. In this complex breathing practice he uses 6 main stages of breathing:

(1) inhalation, which is initiated diaphragmatically (from the abdomen)
(2) holding the breath in while remaining relaxed
(3) holding the breath in while activating the muscles of forced exhalation from the abdomen and from the chest (which increases internal pressures and creates a type of Valsalva manoeuvre)
(4) exhalation from either chest then abdomen or form abdomen then chest (that massages the internal organs and enhances circulation)
(5) holding the breath out while remaining relaxed
(6) holding the breath out while activating the muscles of chest inhalation (which decreases internal pressures and creates a type of Mueller manoeuvre)

Holding the breath in and out in a relaxed way (which is quite safe for most people in its simplest form) for significant periods (once minute ventilation is less than about 5 litres per minute) can be therapeutically very helpful as this builds up internal levels of carbon dioxide (and carbonic acid), which the been shown to:
* increase blood flow to the brain and heart
* increase broncho-dilation and thus increase oxygen transfer between the lungs and the blood
* calm the nervous system
* reduce appetite
* increase the entry of oxygen into the cells via the Bohr effect and thus potentially increases your energy levels by up to 18 times
* increase stem cell productio

However, when the more advanced practice of applying muscle co-activations around the trunk (known in yoga as mula bandha and uddiyana bandha) is performed as demonstrated in the video, this can significantly alter the physiology of the body. If done correctly then the inhalation retention with exhalation muscles active can give a type of autogenous hyperbaric oxygen therapy that has shown to have many important benefits including improving wound healing and increasing local partial pressure of oxygen thus bringing more oxygen to the cells. Similarly, if done correctly then the exhalation retention with the chest inhalation muscles active can give a more powerful type of autogenous intermittent hypoxic therapy than passive exhalation retention alone, that has shown to have many important benefits including increased stem cell production and increased oxygenation of healthy cells. Additionally the changes in pressure invoked by muscle activations during both breath retentions can massage and move the internal organs, and can assist in their function by enhancing blood flow and relieving organ prolapse. To do these practices safely, and prevent potentially dangerous pressure changes in the head you need do a apply positive pressure to the region of neck using co-activation of the neck muscles by bringing the chin in towards the throat at the same time as pressing the neck gently backwards in towards the floor (jalandhara bandha). These are advanced breath-control exercises and should be attempted by the untrained practitioner".
Simon Borg-Olivier

If you want to find out more about the anatomy and physiology of posture, movement and breathing then please join one of our live or online courses at http://yogasynergy.com/training

You can read more the information presented in this video at the related blog at http://blog.yogasynergy.com/2015/12/t...





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Tatkamudra as perhaps a more approachable posture to explore these breathing options.

Being a Mudra tatkamudra can be practiced anytime, as part of our asana practice or outside our practice.








Tatkamudra and downward facing dog are excellent postures from exploring bandhas and kumbhakas. A short Tadasana routine may be another good place to explore bandha and kumbhaka options, I include this short sequence before my first Suryanamaskara each morning.




Also this pranayama preparation posture from David Garrigues in his Pranyama book/dvd Vayu Siddhi  an excellent set up to begin exploring bandhas


*

More from Simon Borg-Olivier on holding your breath for increased strength, flexibility and health


Although there are many benefits to learning how to use all the muscles of breathing, and to learn to breathe in many ways, in the more advanced stages of yoga it is the art of breathing less than normal (hypoventilation) that gives the most physiological benefits. The less you breathe in and out the more you will build up carbon dioxide inside your body. Contrary to popular belief carbon dioxide and the carbonic acid it becomes in your blood has many benefits inside the body.

Carbon dioxide and carbonic acid build up inside you from breathing less than normal (mild hypoventilation):

*** brings more blood to your brain and heart (vasodilation)
*** allows more air to enter your lungs (bronchdilitation)
*** calms your nervous system
*** reduces your need and craving for heavy, processed and acid food

For a beginner the best way to do get the benefits of a build up of carbon dioxide is to try to maintain relaxed abdominal breathing as much as possible and in as many activities as you can. A great activity is to go for a brisk walk and try to keep your breath as natural and relaxed as possible. You will find this easier to do if allow your abdomen to relax more than you may normally do and allow you hips and spine to move more freely like and olympic walker. However, for more advanced practitioners there are several other things you can do with your breath that can increase carbon dioxide once your body is adequately prepared.

In this 5 minute video clip, which is an extract from the Yoga Synergy Yogic Nutrition DVD (http://yogasynergy.com/main/nutrition...) the benefits of holding your breath both in and out as an advanced yoga practitioner are elaborated and demonstrated.
In the first part of this video physiotherapist and research scientist Simon Borg-Olivier demonstrates how to use the Valsalva manoeuvre to lift into a handstand do a backward flip (without warming up). Simon explains that the Valsalva manoeuvre is essentially the act of breathing in almost fully then holding your breath in and performing a moderately forceful attempt at exhalation (without actually exhaling) against your closed airway. Although this is a relatively commonly used technique for increasing strength via increasing intraabdominal and intrathoracic pressure in sports such a weightlifting, it is not recommended for most people as it can dangerously increase blood pressure and if done incorrectly can cause stroke in some people. Simon uses the Valsalva manoeuvre to slowly lift his body into the air into a handstand and then using what is essentially a chest lock (a compressive uddiyana bandha) and an abdominal lock (expansive mula bandha) (see http://blog.yogasynergy.com) protects his lower back enough to drop into a full backward arch posture and then complete a backward flip to standing (viparita chakrasana). Here the Valsalva manoeuvre helps improve both strength and flexibility while protecting the lower back as well as other joints in the body.
WARNING: The Valsalva manoeuvre is potentially dangerous done in normal positions, but it is especially potentially dangerous when done in the exercise and movements shown in this video unless your body is highly trained in physical yoga and pranayama or at least similar Western exercise techniques. DO NOT do this exercise if you are prone to irregular blood pressure (high or low), headaches, nausea and/or circulatory system problem. You must not let any pressure come to your head during the lifting movements of handstand and the backward flip. Pressing and keeping the tip of your tongue on the roof of the mouth can help to prevent excessive pressure going to the brain and helps to replace the standard chin-lock (ha-jalandhara bandha in pranayama), which is hard to do while lifting into handstands.


In the second part of the video Simon talks about the benefits of holding your breath out. Here he demonstrates holding his breath completely out and practicing nauli (rectus abdominis isolation) and lauliki (abdominal churning using rectus abdominis as well as the oblique muscles) while expanding the chest as if inhaling to the chest but not actually inhaling. This practice, which is sometimes likened to the Mueller manoeuvre in Western medical science builds up carbon dioxide even more rapidly than the Valsalva manoeuvre and is less dangerous to attempt. It is really great for improving digestion by massaging the internal organs. You can read more about this technique in one of our earlier blogs at http://blog.yogasynergy.com.


*

Advanced backbending based on vajrasana




'THE ADVANCED CAMEL TRAIN': In this 3 minute video I demonstrate and describe what you need to be aware of to safely come into postures such as the 'Camel posture' (Ustrasana) and related postures such as Laghu vajrasasana, Bhekasana and Kapotasana. I call this advanced sequence 'The Camel Train'. It is from the Yoga Synergy Advanced Water Sequence and it is lots of fun!

*** Ustrasana
*** Kulpha Laghu Vajrasana
*** Janu Laghu Vajrasana
*** Supta Virasana
*** Supta Bhekasana
*** Kapotasana
*** With Hamsasana between each posture.

In each of the 'Camel' postures the emphasis (for reasons I describe below) is to activate the spinal flexors (mainly the abdominal muscle rectus abdominis) to become active in order to reciprocally relax the back muscles. To balance this activity I practice The 'arm-balancing swan posture' (Hamsasana), which activates the the spinal extensor (back muscles) and thus reciprocally relaxes the abdominal muscles and frees the internal organs. Hamsasana is similar to Mayurasana but uses the more challenging forward pointing hand position.

See this Simon's companion blog post


(Caution: Please note that is an advanced practice is not a practice for most people, but the principles I give here can all be used in simple backward-bending component of the spinal movements sequence Bianca Machliss and I have already described in our Yoga Synergy blog ( http://blog.yogasynergy.com/2014/08/a... )
**********
You can learn more about how to work like this by joining our live or online training.

It would be great if you can join Bianca Machliss and I in our 200 hour live course in Goa India from 19 March to 17 April 2016 ( http://yogasynergy.com/training ) (Both our online courses below are included with this training).

In our award winning online course 'Teacher Training Essentials: Yoga Fundamentals’ (http://fundamentals.yogasynergy.com/ ) you will learn how to teach yourself or other how to do safe and effective practice for strength, flexibility, vitality and longevity in a comprehensive ashtanga vinyasa-based practice developed with the understanding of the body that that Bianca Machliss and I have acquired as physiotherapists and yoga teachers.


APPENDIX



See this post on why and how Krishnamacharya introduced kumbhaka ( short breath holding options) into his practice

http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2013/10/why-did-krishnamacharya-introduce.html

and this post perhaps to put it all into context.

How to practice Krishnamacharya's early Mysore Ashtanga


Along with the interview perhaps my favourite post on Simon

How Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with the breath all over again


Link to Simon's website
https://anatomy.yogasynergy.com/


ALSO


Krishnamacharya exploring kumbhaka in Virasana,
Screenshot  from the 1938 film footage

Simon's breathing exercises in the first video are based on vjrasana and virasana, there are some excellent  Vinyasa krama vajrasana and virasana sequence

Vajrasana
http://vinyasakramayoga.blogspot.jp/2011/01/meditative-sequence-poster-and-practice.html




post http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2011/11/day-55-meditative-virasana-hero-pose.html which includes a video.


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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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