This blog is essentially 'sleeping'.

I've deleted or returned to draft 80% of the blog, gone are most, if not all, of the videos I posted of Pattabhi Jois, gone are most of the posts regarding my own practice as well as most of my practice videos in YouTube, other than those linked to my Vinyasa Yoga Practice Book).

Mostly I've just retained the 'Research' posts, those relating to Krishnamacharya in particular.

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Monday, 30 March 2015

Krishnamacharya's tricky ekapada sirsasana ( or ekapada viparitakarani)

I currently have a soft spot for this headstand variation, ekapada viparitakarani


I came across it awhile back in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Part II) but couldn't figure out what was going on in the instructions or how to get into it.

Recently I saw a photograph of Simon Borg-Olivier in the posture, realised that it was possible and decided to explore. 

Before trying it you should be comfortable with the 2nd series Ashtanga Vinyasa  or vinyasa Krama niralumba sirsasana (without support) variations. 



The question now is do we have both hands outstretched, palms down, as in the Ashtanga 2nd series variation and then lower and raise one leg at a time or do we take only the one hand/arm out from behind the head and lower the leg to that. Krishnamacharya's instructions are unclear. 

I suggest trying the 'both arms outstretched in frount of you' variation first. Below I'm exploring a konasana variation following a misreading of the text.


Just goes to show how easily you can get it wrong practicing from a text. I misread Krishnamacharya here. thought he had written spread the legs into konasana then lower on to the palms but actually he spreads the legs into konasana for six breaths, then brings them back together before lowering. That said, I'm sure he practiced this variation also.


Assuming you're comfortable with the Ashtanga Vinyasa 2nd series unsupported headstand variations, the approach I take to the more challenging version is to move one hand from supported headstand into tripod then stretch my arm out, the back of the hand on the mat, then follow Krishnamacharya's instructions, lowering the foot to the hand for six breaths.


Return the same way via the hand in tripod.

Another variation might be to raise up into the headstand variation with one arm already outstretched

Sharath has suggested we explore longer headstands, this might be an option to look at while doing so along with many of those found in Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga.



A curious thing about Krishnamacharya ( or the editor's) presentation is that he refers to this asana as SIRSHASANA-EKAPADA-VIPARITAKARANI. I'd always assumed viparitikarani was the mudra version of sirsasana and as a mudra perhaps more static, characterised by the employment of bandhas, kumbhaka's and longer stays, lowering and raising the leg in viparitakarani was then a surprise, perhaps this is why (Hatha Yoga) is included in brackets.

I don't tend to think long stays in an unsupported headstand variations is appropriate, in the Ashtanga 2nd series variations one only stays for five breaths. It's true that Krsihnamacharya only indicates six breaths here but he tends to recommend long, slow breathing in his asana practice as well as in the vinyasa, when added to the kumbhaka  (even the shorter one of a couple of seconds recommended for sirsasana) that's a significant period of time without support for the neck.

Update
First attempt to explore this full sequence together rather than separately. Faster breathing than usual because of the recording and a little unsteady due to some anxiety about the glass shoji screens to my left (showing up especially on the second side). The second eka pada approach comes up 3 and a half minutes in.





Below are Krishnamachayra's instructions, starting off with those for sirsasana as he refers to them in the later asana.


SIRSHASANA--HEAD STAND
Sisshasana, Yoga Makaranda Mysore, 1934

This asana is so called because the head supports the whole body. This is also variously called KAPHALASANA, BRAHMASANA. These three, however, differ to some extent both in the technique and in the benefits derived. These differences have to be learnt under personal instructions form a Guru. This asana is beneficial in a large number of diseases and is rightly termed the ‘king of all the asanas’.

Technique:


1. Place something soft, like a cushion, folded blanket or carpet on the floor touching the wall.

2. Kneel on the ground facing the wall.

3. Lock the fingers together, thumbs upright, and place them about four inches from the wall. Let the elbows rest on the cushion, the elbows being not more than a foot apart.


4. Bend the neck and place the top of the head firmly on the cushion inside the knitted fingers. The thumbs should press behind the ears.

5. Eyes are to be kept closed.

6. Raise the hips, so that the knees are straightened and bring the feet as near the head
as possible. The toes, the feet and knees are to be kept together. The back will now rest
against the wall.

7. Take long breaths twice.

8. Lift both the feet simultaneously to an upright position. Toes together, knees
together. The back will rest on the wall. Straighten the back so that the whole body may rest solely on the top of the head without the support of the wall.
Note: For beginners to raise the legs upright without bending the knees will be difficult and the help of another person may be taken. If necessary the knees may be bent, brought closer to the body, the back still kept in contact with the wall and with a slight jump the legs taken above the head, and the knees still bent. The legs are then straightened slowly, the knees together, the toes together and the toes pointed.

9. Toes should be pointed and the thigh and calf muscles should be stretched.

10. Slowly inhale and exhale deeply with rubbing sensation in the throat. When exhalation is complete the abdomen should be well drawn in (UDDIYANA BANDHAM).

Note:
For proper benefit of the asana it is essential that the breathing should be regulated i.e., as long and as thin as possible,
Normal shallow breathing does not give any benefit. (Concentration on Lord Ananthapadmabanabha gives added benefit.) (a combination of asana, pranayama and dhyana gives proper benefit.) (See in this connection Sutra 47 Chapter II of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Vaschaspati Misra’s and Bala Ramodasin’s commentaries.

For the first week do not exceed six inhalations and exhalations. There should be no retention of breath. Uddiyana bandha, in the beginning should be done only once a day.
Every week the number of inhalations and exhalations may be increased by four, so that the duration of the asana is slowly brought up.

11. After the number of rounds of breathing is over, slowly bring down the legs. In the beginning the knees may have to be bent, but as practice advances, the knee can be kept straight.


12. Lie on the back relaxed and take rest for at least for three minutes.
Note: 1. For people who are overweight over 190 lbs. Sirshasana should be begun only after the weight has been reduced.



SIRSHASANA-EKAPADA-VIPARITAKARANI - (Hatha Yoga)

Preparation, move one hand from supporting the head to laying out flat in frount of you


Technique:

1. The first three steps are the same as for the last asana.

2. While exhaling, slowly lower right leg to the ground so that the right foot will rest
on the right palm. The left leg is kept upright. The thigh and calf muscles of both the legs
are kept stretched.

3. Stay in this position for 6 breaths.

4. While inhaling, raise the leg back to the upright position.

5. Repeat with the left leg.

6. The next steps are the same as in step 7 of the previous asana.





VIPARITA KONASANA:


Technique

1. The first eight steps are the same as for Sirshasana.

2. Exhaling, the legs are spread apart, and the thigh and calf muscles kept stretched,
toes should be pointed.

3. Do six deep breathing.

4. Inhaling, bring the legs together.

The next steps are the same as 11 and 12 given under Sirshasana.



DVIPADA VIPARITAKARANI

The hands outstretched variation of sirsasana in 2nd series as preparation for lowering the feet to the hands

Technique:


1. The first step is the same as Sirshasana.

2. While exhaling both the legs are lowered to the ground without bending the knees and keeping the thigh and calf muscles stretched.

3. Do six deep breathing.

4. While inhaling raise both the legs together to the upright position.

5. While exhaling bend knees and return to the floor and rest.

6.     Exhale, bend knees, so that they approach the throat, lower the hips so that the back rests on the ground and then stretch the legs, so that the whole forms a rolling movement.


7. Take rest at least for a minute.


Benefits:
The thyroid gets special benefits. The waist line is reduced. This tones up the liver. This helps in preventing piles, and helps in curing gastric troubles.
(Note: The above three variations are according to Hatha Yoga).


Note:

In the beginning it may be difficult to bring the body to an upright position without bending the knees.

So the knees may be bent and the thighs bent over the body.
The hips are raised from the ground and the back supported by the palms.
The legs are now stretched.

If there is still difficulty, then help of somebody should be taken.

If the body is fat and no help is available, the help of the wall may be sought so that it can support the heels at gradually increasing levels.

This is done by lying on the ground facing the wall perpendicular to it.
After some time the hips can also be raised by having a bedroll near the wall.
When some strength is gained the heels are removed from the wall and the legs brought upright.

(As breathing exercises are done in these positions the abdominal muscles get toned up and the stomach becomes more and more pliable and soft.


The chin should be locked in the neck pit. This ensures that the head is placed symmetrical with the body so that the neck muscles may not be strained. The neck pit is the depression in front of the thyroid between the collar bones.
Note: The chin lock will not be possible in the beginning stages, but it should be kept in mind that the head is kept symmetrical with the body and the neck muscles are not strained.

The full chin lock will become possible when the body is fully upright and the palms have reached a position in the back as low as possible.


Slowly inhale and exhale with even, long breaths through both nostrils, with rubbing sensation in the throat, not more than six times at the beginning. There should be no retention of breath. The number of inhalations and exhalations may be slowly increased at the rate of two each week.


Note:
The final duration of this asana can be 5 to 10 minutes when it is done by itself. If on the other hand other asanas are also being done the duration may be suitably reduced.

*

More on Krishnamacharya's headstands here
http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2014/11/krishnamacharyas-1930s-mysore-headstand.html

Some more sirsasana variations from Krishnamacharya from 1938 (Mysore).


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

More on Krishnamacharya's breath, two students 30 years apart, Indra Devi 1930s and Yyvonne Millerand 1960s


Thank you to Enrique for sending through these pages from two of Krishnamacharya's students thirty years apart, Indra Devi in the 1930s and Yyvonne Millerand in the 1960s. Also, two pages from Krishnamacharya's son TKV Desikachar's book 'Heart of Yoga'.
The selection is followed by Simon Borg-Olivier discussion of the benefits of abdominal breathing from his book Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga http://anatomy.yogasynergy.com/book


The selections relate to my earlier post on Krishnamacharya's explicit instruction for the breath in Yogasanagalu (1941)

Friday, 6 March 2015
The breath: Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with asana all over again.

In that post we looked at the explicit instructions for the breath given by krishnamacharya in his early Mysore work Yogasanagalu (1941)


from Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu

1. In yoganga sadhana we don’t see these (above mentioned) irregularities and with regular practice all organs will become strong.  How is that?  When practicing asanas, we need to maintain deep inhalation and exhalation to normalise the uneven respiration through nasal passages.

 2. In yoga positions where eyes, head and forehead are raised, inhalation must be performed slowly through the nostrils until the lungs are filled.  Then the chest is pushed forward and puffed up, abdomen tightly tucked in, focusing the eyes on the tip of the nose, and straighten the back bones tightly as much as possible.  This type of inhalation which fills the lungs signifies Puraka.

3. In yoga positions where eyes, head, forehead, chest and the hip are lowered, we have to slowly exhale the filled air.  Tucking in tightly the upper abdomen, the eyes must be closed.  This type of exhalation is called Rechaka.

4. Holding the breath is called Kumbhaka.


On reading those instructions Enrique was reminded of some of the instructions for the breath found in several of Krishnamacharya's students, Indra Devi, Yvonne Millerand and also those found in TKV Desikachar's Heart of Yoga. 

It's important to remember that although indra Devi and YYvonne Millerand  were Krishnamacharya's students their writing and own instructions for the breath may well be influenced by later teachers. however One thing we do find in all these descriptions is the employment of kumbhaka (breath retention). Kumbhaka in asana is very much a feature of Krishnamacharya's early Mysore writing and may suggest that the instructions given do closely resemble those instructions given by Krishnsmacharya while they were studying with him.

In the notes section at the end of the post I've included the selection on the benefits of abdominal breathing from Simon Borg-Olivier's Book that I'm currently exploring and trying to square with Krishnamacharya's own Yogasanagalu instructions



The first two selections Enrique passed along are from Indra Devi's 'Yoga For You'.


Indra Devi famously studied with Krishnamacharya  for a short period in the 1930s, is this how Krishnamacharya taught her to breath or an approach she embraced later based on other sources.

An earlier post on Indria Devi which includes 'In the shala', a chapter from one of her books on her experience studying with Krishnamacharya.

Friday, 8 November 2013
Photo: Indra Devi teaching Marilyn Monroe Yoga 1960 ALSO Indra Devi in Mysore








*

The second two pages are from are from an Italian edition of Yvonne's Millerand Guide pratique de HathaYoga. 

Including  a much appreciated translation from the Italian by Chiara Ghiron 




Thank you to Chiara Ghiron  for the speedy translation below


First picture

Same working position: laying on the back, with bent legs, feet on the floor.

Rest your fingers on the top of your chest; elbows and shoulders rest on the floor, relaxed.

Having inhaled into the thoracic cage, we exhale relaxing until a respiratory equilibrium and then continue the exhale by 'blowing' tthanks to contraction of the abdominal muscles.

Retention with empty lungs: during this retention, gradually release abdominal contraction.

1. Inhalation: the top part of the thoracic cage lifts gently as air gets in. After the top part of the lungs have filled, the middle part also expands, then ribs remain relaxed or floating. Towards the end, a gentle expansion of the abdominal area is perceived, due to completion of diaphragmatic contraction, expansion and lowering, to ensure maximal room to the entering air

2. Retention: short, with no movement whatsoever

3. Exhalation: attention is directed to the abdomen. From the start of the exhalation, the abdomen wall flattens and gradually gets closer to the back wall with a slow voluntary action that allows dosage of rate and amount of exhaled air

4. Retention: short. The abdominal wall is kept contracted for a few seconds then released, to allow for the following inhalation that restarts movement in the thoracic cage




Thank you to Chiara Ghiron for the speedy translation below

Mechanical deep breathing exercise

- Seated, with straight, slightly open, legs, rest on the straight arms behind the back, hands on the floor. Inhale into the thoracic cage.

- Exhalation is helped by movement. While keeping exhaling, the body curls, the head lowers towards the sternum, ribs contract, the back bends sustained by the arms. The maximal air volume is expelled when the abdominal muscles contract by squeezing the internal organs: 'you blow'

- Retention: observe the abdominal surface below the midline, perceiving the tonic contraction of the abdominal muscles under the elastic skin; it is an effort which is very precisely located. With empty lungs and no other movement, this contraction is gently released and the lower abdomen rounds up a little

- Inhalation: making lever on the arms, the upper part of the spin lifts to start inhalation, opening the shoulders which move away from each other, raising the sternum. Air enters with an uninterrupted flux in a totally natural way into the top of the lungs, then into their middle portion as the thoracic cage expands and the back stretches. Lastly, the head lifts and bends backwards slowly. Resting on the arms allows for the abdominal muscles to become completely relaxed; the belly rounds up under the expanded ribs, which is a sign that the diaphragm has lowered and the inhalation has happened from top to bottom

- Retention without movement for a few seconds; exhalation is then guided again by movement of the body

This exercise will be repeated at the beginning of each class to ventilate the lungs and verify the tone of the abdominal muscles. They need to be able to contract to ensure exhalation and relax to allow lowering of the diaphragm at the end of the inhalation.

*

Two pages on breathing from Krishnamacharya's son TKV Desikachar's 1999 book 
'Heart of Yoga'






NOTES

My earlier notes from Simon Bog-Olivier and another selection from Yyvonne Millerand

This section from Simon and Bianca's's book gives us lots to think about and work with perhaps as well as their concepts of related ha and tha bandhas..

"8.2.8.3 Abdominal and thoracic breathing
Abdominal breathing and thoracic breathing are terms sometimes used by people who teach breathing to indicate where on the body an expansion of the trunk should occur reÀecting the primary activation of either the diaphragm (abdominal breathing) or the intercostal muscles (thoracic breathing). It is incorrect to think that air is actually coming into the abdomen during abdominal breathing. In both types of breathing, the air will only go into the lungs.

Abdominal breathing is seen as an outward movement of the abdomen on inhalation and an inward movement of the abdomen on exhalation. Abdominal breathing mainly uses the diaphragm muscle, which moves downwards (distally) as it generates tension. If the abdomen is relaxed, pressure from the diaphragm will move the abdominal contents downwards (distally) and also outwards (anteriorly).

Thoracic breathing is seen as an outward and upward movement of the rib cage on inhalation and an inward and downward movement of the rib cage and chest wall on exhalation. Thoracic breathing mainly uses the intercostal muscles.

Intercostal muscle expansion of the rib cage and chest wall in thoracic breathing is essentially the same as the muscular activation used in the yogic internal lock uddiyana bandha [Section 7.4.1.3]". p227

8.4.3 The Effects of Breathing Rate on Various Body Systems
Some types of pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) require slow breathing that ¿lls and empties the entire lungs. This is sometimes referred to by other authors as complete breathing. Complete breathing requires full use of the diaphragm, the thoracic intercostal muscles and the abdominal muscles:

• The diaphragm [Table 7.4] is the main muscle used in what is referred to as abdominal breathing [Section 8.2.8]. On inhalation the abdomen gets larger as the diaphragm is activated (tenses and shortens), and on exhalation the abdomen gets smaller as the diaphragm relaxes (lengthens) and returns to its original position.

• The thoracic intercostal muscles (intercostals) [Table 7.4] are used in what is referred to as thoracic breathing [Section 8.2.8]. On inhalation the thorax (chest and upper back) gets larger as the intercostals are activated (tensing and shortening), and on exhalation the thorax gets smaller as the intercostals relax (lengthen) and return to their original position.

• The abdominal muscles [Table 7.4] are used to make a forced exhalation or a complete exhalation. 
By maintaining the grip (tension and shortness) of the abdominal muscles after the exhalation it makes it easier to expand the chest on a subsequent inhalation.

Many people have dif¿culty breathing with both the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles and are unable to expand their thorax unless they breathe quite forcefully with relatively fast and deep breathing [Table 8.1]. Fast, deep breathing forces the abdominal muscles to become activated (tense) to get the air out quickly and fully and, since the abdominal muscles have no time to relax after the exhalation, the subsequent inhalation is done with the abdomen ¿rm, thus forcing the thorax (chest and upper back) to expand.

Similarly, there are many people who can not easily relax their abdomen. Their abdominal muscles hold so much tension that these people are unable to breathe into their abdomen, and are hardly able to use their diaphragm at all, unless they spend time focusing on relaxation and slower breathing [Table 8.1]. These people tend to be doing mainly thoracic breathing while doing any physical activity.

In terms of the bandhas, the complete inhalation, i.e. the maximum possible inhalation, can be done with a tha-uddiyana bandha (chest expansion) followed and supplemented by a tha-mula bandha (abdominal expansion), while the maximum possible exhalation can be done with a ha-mula bandha (abdominal contraction) followed and supplemented by a ha-uddiyana bandha (chest contraction).

Table 8.1 compares the effects of two extreme types of breathing (fast deep breathing compared to slow shallow or tidal breathing) on the various body systems. These are only two of the many breathing possibilities that exist and each have varying effects. There is no such thing as right or wrong breathing but one must use the type of breathing that is appropriate for the situation.

Both the thoracic breathing and abdominal breathing confer possible bene¿ts and disadvantages. Ideal yogic breathing is a combination of the most advantageous aspects of both fast, deep breathing and slow, shallow breathing [Table 8.1]. In ideal yogic breathing, the three central bandhas (jalandhara, uddiyana, and mula) [Section 7.4.1] are held throughout the breath cycle. To initially learn to maintain a grip on the three bandhas, the thorax should be kept expanded (tha-uddiyana bandha) throughout the breath cycle as it would be during thoracic breathing inhalation; the lower abdomen should be kept ¿rm and drawn inwards (ha-mula bandha), as in a forced exhalation; while the back of the neck is kept long and the chin kept slightly down and inwards (ha-jalandhara bandha) [Section 7.4.1].
In optimal yogic breathing, slow relaxed diaphragmatic breathing is used to respire only a small amount of air per minute, but with the chest and abdomen held in such a way that only a small volume of air is needed to ¿ll and then empty the lung. In the most advanced stages of pranayama the key emphasis should be not on increasing lung volume from breath to breath but rather on increasing the pressure in the chest with each inhale without increasing the volume. p238

Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga http://anatomy.yogasynergy.com/book

Update 2


"I arrived just in time. Giving me a few lessons a week, he started with a simple asana practice. I was to establish a link between breath and movement. Breathing should be controlled hand movements, slower breathing, the slower the movement. Each asana followed repeated at least four times. After one hour lesson in a sitting position, I learned the sound Udzhdzhayi and be able to distinguish it from the nasal sound. He allowed me to begin the simplest Pranayama - Udzhdzhayi Anuloma and Udzhdzhayi Viloma.

Krishnamacharya used to tell me, "lift up your chest," for the fact that, due to the rise of my chest, I could fill the air flow based on my lungs. After that, he insisted on the exhale with the abdominal muscles and the perineum. Breathe in and out - of course, but with the insertion of pauses, everything changes. Coached control is felt as an affirmation of life and gives a sense of a better life, by controlling breathing and blood circulation, which are interrelated. This is what I felt.



Monday, 16 March 2015

Krishnamacharya's Mahavedha (lotus lifted, spun, dropped). plus Notes to Self: In defence of asana practice - Also

Krishnamacharya at 50, even in his later years Krishnamacharya was supposedly practicing up to three hours of asana a day, he never lost faith in asana it seems even practicing it in his hospital be in his 90s after a fall and broken hip.
Here he is in a rare scent from the 1938 Mysore footage practicing what seems to be Maha Vedha, padmasana taken further  and lifted utpluthi but then further still and practiced as a mudra, mahabandha, and finally as kriya -see video at end of post.

Krishnamacharya practicing Mahavedha ( padmasana/lotus lifted, spun, dropped).
See this earlier post 




from the 1938 Mysore footage.

When I first saw this clip it reminded me of some of the Tibetan yoga practices, where for example a monk drops from standing and lands in padmasana (full lotus), the idea seeming to be to shock the kundalini into the sushumna.

However, on looking again at Hatha yoga pradipka, this dropping of the lotus seems to be Krishnamacharya's take perhaps on mahavedha... see below and blog post http://tinyurl.com/mmvxqvz

Either way it's curious, a very deliberate practice, something.... old about it. The lifting and dropping might be something you might try on a reading of HYP but the spinning? It suggests to me a learned practice especially the emphasised looking up at the end of each drop.Facinating.

from Hatha Yoga Pradipka

"The mahâ Vedha अथ भहावधे ् 
भहाफन्धश्चस्थतोमोगीकॄत्वाऩयूकभके धी्। वामनू ाॊ गश्चतभावॄत्य श्चनबतॄ ॊ कण्िभद्रु मा ॥२६॥ 
Atha mahāvedhah 
Mahābandhasthito yogī krtvā pūrakamekadhīh Vāyūnām ghatimāvrtya nibhrtam kanthamudrayā 

Sitting with mahâ Bandha, the Yogî should fill in the air and keep his mind collected. The movements of the Vâyus (Prâna and Apâna) should be stopped by closing the throat.) 

सभहस्तमगुोबभूौश्चस्फचौसतॊािमच्छे न्ै।
ऩ टु द्व म भ श्च त ि म्य व ा म ् ु स्फ ु य श्च त भ ध्य ग ् ॥ २ ७ ॥ 
Samahastayugho bhūmau sphichau sanādayechchanaih Putadvayamatikramya vāyuh sphurati madhyaghah 

Resting both the hands equally on the ground, he should raise himself a little and strike his buttocks against the ground gently. The air, leaving both the passages namely Idâ and Pingalâ, starts into the middle one".

*

More Notes to Self
In defence of asana




Often we begin with asana,

If we practice regularly, at the same time, in the same place, it becomes routine.

Routine is the mother of discipline.

When a discipline brings us joy it can lead to devotion.

We become devoted to the practice.

When something so simple as stepping on the mat to breathe each morning gains importance in our lives we might find other more worldly objects of desire lose some of their import, our attachment to the world may be loosened.

Yoga philosophy suggests that the self is a construction of the mind, reenforced, maintained even by our attachment to the world of the senses.

Through our devotion to our asana practice then, our attachment to worldly things can be loosened, the construction of the self weakened.

In this sense asana can be considered preparation, tapas, an austerity.

Devotion along with surrender are considered two of the highest concepts in Yoga philosophy, Bhakti yoga.

The practice of asana may be considered a suitable preparation for yoga practice but is it a suitable object of devotion.

Asana practice, when an object of devotion can loosen our attachment to the objects of the senses, to our attachment to the world and thus can weaken the maintenance of the the mind constructed self.

As an object of devotion it is not merely preparation for yoga but the first steps along the path.

The path of yoga is intended to be one of self-realisation, that the world may not be as it appears, that my sense of self may not be what I assumed to be, what I believed.

The yoga path is to be one of knowledge, of greater understanding, of truth perhaps, all surely suitable objects of devotion.

As we deepen our practice through the other limbs, the weakened self may crumble, dissolve, what we believed to be our self melts away. Is there anything that remains?

Commitment to this practice is choosing to offer up our current understanding of self, an act of surrender as enquiry.

Yoga philosophy traditionally argues that Purusha  remains, 'awareness', (an instance of universal awareness), Atman, Brahman, some use the expression the Lord, still others God.

Love is often described as seeking to know, rather than to project, to experience, to become joined to..., one with...., to be indivisible from... that which we love.

*'Love can be bhakti for us', love of knowledge, for the path of knowledge where ever it leads... to purusha or perhaps the absence of purusha, to god or to the absence of god.

Yoga is knowledge as radical enquiry and as such is not predetermined, there are signs along the way offered by those who have gone ahead but destination(s) only hinted at.

Devotion to the practice of asana may be the first step along the path of yoga, a path that may lead to self- realisation, knowledge, experience of......



****


Krishnamacharya was supposedly once asked, 

What is bhakti for those who do not believe in God, 

he answered, 

'Love is bhakti for them'. 

*


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Krishnamacharya on how to breathe in asana (1941) Plus more from Simon Borg-Olivier on exploring the breath.

A dilemma, to continue exploring Simon's use of abdominal breathing or return to Krishnamacharya's  Yogasanagalu guidelines. What would Krishnamacharya himself have done faced with a similar dilemma....., he would no doubt have continued to explore both approaches and then decide on his preference from a position of experience. (But see update at the bottom of the post)

This picture was taken for Krishnamacharya's 1934 Mysore text Yoga Makaranda. The same picture and asana instructions found in that text were included in his later  book Yogasanagalu (1941)  as well as 10 extra general asana guidelines under the title Niyama.

UPDATE: But hang on a moment, if you were breathing into the chest, why would you then need to puff out the chest, wouldn't it have expanded somewhat already ( not necessarily )? If I follow Krishnamacharya's instructions I can still breathe abdominally and then swell the chest, relax  certain abdominal muscles to draw the abdomen in for the kumbhaka, likewise with the exhalation.... see the full update at the end of the blog under notes.



Niyama 

from Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu

1. In yoganga sadhana we don’t see these (above mentioned) irregularities and with regular practice all organs will become strong.  How is that?  When practicing asanas, we need to maintain deep inhalation and exhalation to normalise the uneven respiration through nasal passages.

 2. In yoga positions where eyes, head and forehead are raised, inhalation must be performed slowly through the nostrils until the lungs are filled.  Then the chest is pushed forward and puffed up, abdomen tightly tucked in, focusing the eyes on the tip of the nose, and straighten the back bones tightly as much as possible.  This type of inhalation which fills the lungs signifies Puraka.

3. In yoga positions where eyes, head, forehead, chest and the hip are lowered, we have to slowly exhale the filled air.  Tucking in tightly the upper abdomen, the eyes must be closed.  This type of exhalation is called Rechaka.

4. Holding the breath is called Kumbhaka.


In Krishnamacharya's 1941 text Yogasanagalu (see translation project HERE ) written in Mysore back when he was teaching the Young Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya stated explicitly what he intended by his usage of rechaka, puraka and kumbhaka in asana.

This is important as Krishnamacharya goes on to outline the main breathing principle for each asana in his three groups Primary, Middle and Advanced asana on which Pattabhi Jois was to base his four year college syllabus (1940s- ) with it's four sequences that was to go on to form the six sequences of current Ashtanga vinyasa.

Below: sample of the table from Yogasanagalu
Sheet 2 Full table HERE

Sheet 4 Full table HERE
I'd forgot how explicit Krishnamacharya was regarding the breath here, he buries it away under a Niyama  heading IE. Guidelines for practice.


I've been exploring Simon Borg-Olivier's use of the breath recently, abdominal breathing in asana in particular. I'm fascinated by the subtly, I'd wondered if there was perhaps a grey area in Krishnamacharya's teaching, if it was left somewhat open and abdominal breathing might make some of Krishnamacharya's long stays more achievable. Putting to one side the three hours he mentions in mayurasana, he does also suggest 5-15 minutes in the posture daily. Is five minutes possible with a relaxed abdomen, does a firm and relaxed abdomen make ten minutes in even chatauranga possible?

Simon uses subtle shifts in posture to firm areas of the abdomen (see the end of the post for what this can do for your baddha konasana), to stop the belly ballooning out, and yet also keep it relaxed enough to allow for steady comfortable breathing. Breathing into the abdomen relaxes, it's a fascinating approach to practice, try it in uttana hasta padangusthasana, try it too in inversions, in handstands. Simon draws the example of a truck tire which can support ten tonnes and more, as we hold the abdomen firm and breathe into it, great strength is achievable and yet we are still relaxed, it's somewhat effortless. I'm not so concerned with ten minutes in mayurasana, handstands or carrying ten tonne trucks on my shoulders but can't resist exploring every more refinement in the breath..... just to see.

Here's Simon from my post last week on The breath

"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".
Part of Simon's Blog and Youtube Spinal sequence series


And see this marvellous post from Simon on his Blog, not sure if there's a Part II yet.

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


"In this blog I will be discussing the the physical and physiological effects of breathing. There are two main reasons we breathe. The main reason is the physiological reason of getting oxygen into our cells. Perhaps surprisingly to many people the best way to achieve this is to safely breathe as little as possible (hypoventilation) to stimulate the Bohr effect which says significant carbon dioxide must be present for oxygen to be able to enter the cells (see our recent blog). The other reason we breathe could be called physical reason and it includes the effects on joints, muscles, nerves, the mind, emotions, blood floor, digestion, reproduction and immunity. In this blog on breathing (Part 1) I will be focusing on the physical effects of breathing. If you breathe, or use the muscles of breathing in certain ways you can radically improve and/alter strength, flexibility, nerve function, blood flow and internal organ health. Many people inadvertently only focus on this reason for breathing and in their enthusiasm and often lack of knowledge they over-breathe (hyperventilate) and thus miss the primary purpose of breathing. In the next blog on breathing (Part 2) I will be focusing on how to achieve the physiological effects of breathing. The advanced practitioner can control their breath in such a way the both the physical and physiological benefits of breathing are achieved at the same time". Continue to the post...." LINK

And also this post with some breath science from Simon's online Anatomy and physiology course

To Breathe or not to Breathe

also this

Exhale for Pleasure, Strength and Freedom

and this, definitely this

Holding your breath for increased strength, flexibility, healthier digestion and to eat less food

and of course my interview with Simon where we discussed the breath on the Yoga Rainbow festival from this post http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2014/05/interview-with-simon-borg-olivier.html.




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And what all this does for your Baddha Konasana ( an excellent posture for exploring the breath).



In his spinal sequence Simon includes several techniques for firming the abdomen while standing (just try leaning forward for example, amazing), seated examples are harder to find, for now you have to work it out yourself somewhat although there was mention of directing the hips or sit bones towards the feet (heels i find works in inversions). I've been exploring. and one interesting side effect of exploring this approach is that when we firm the abdomen in for example baddha konasana by directing the sit bones towards the heels, nothing moves on the outside but by just having that attention/intention all sorts of things seem to happen on the inside, muscles firm, joints it seems open.
Think the sit bones to the heels in baddha konasana and watch it blossom.


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NOTES

UPDATE: But hang on a moment, if you were breathing into the chest, why would you then need to puff out the chest, wouldn't it have expanded somewhat already ( not necessarily )? If I follow Krishnamacharya's instructions I can still breathe abdominally and then swell the chest, relax  certain abdominal muscles to draw the abdomen in for the kumbhaka, likewise with the exhalation....

This section from Simon and Bianca's's book gives us lots to think about and work with perhaps as well as their concepts of related ha and tha bandhas..

"8.2.8.3 Abdominal and thoracic breathing
Abdominal breathing and thoracic breathing are terms sometimes used by people who teach breathing to indicate where on the body an expansion of the trunk should occur reÀecting the primary activation of either the diaphragm (abdominal breathing) or the intercostal muscles (thoracic breathing). It is incorrect to think that air is actually coming into the abdomen during abdominal breathing. In both types of breathing, the air will only go into the lungs.

Abdominal breathing is seen as an outward movement of the abdomen on inhalation and an inward movement of the abdomen on exhalation. Abdominal breathing mainly uses the diaphragm muscle, which moves downwards (distally) as it generates tension. If the abdomen is relaxed, pressure from the diaphragm will move the abdominal contents downwards (distally) and also outwards (anteriorly).

Thoracic breathing is seen as an outward and upward movement of the rib cage on inhalation and an inward and downward movement of the rib cage and chest wall on exhalation. Thoracic breathing mainly uses the intercostal muscles.

Intercostal muscle expansion of the rib cage and chest wall in thoracic breathing is essentially the same as the muscular activation used in the yogic internal lock uddiyana bandha [Section 7.4.1.3]". p227

8.4.3 The Effects of Breathing Rate on Various Body Systems
Some types of pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) require slow breathing that ¿lls and empties the entire lungs. This is sometimes referred to by other authors as complete breathing. Complete breathing requires full use of the diaphragm, the thoracic intercostal muscles and the abdominal muscles:

• The diaphragm [Table 7.4] is the main muscle used in what is referred to as abdominal breathing [Section 8.2.8]. On inhalation the abdomen gets larger as the diaphragm is activated (tenses and shortens), and on exhalation the abdomen gets smaller as the diaphragm relaxes (lengthens) and returns to its original position.

• The thoracic intercostal muscles (intercostals) [Table 7.4] are used in what is referred to as thoracic breathing [Section 8.2.8]. On inhalation the thorax (chest and upper back) gets larger as the intercostals are activated (tensing and shortening), and on exhalation the thorax gets smaller as the intercostals relax (lengthen) and return to their original position.

• The abdominal muscles [Table 7.4] are used to make a forced exhalation or a complete exhalation. 
By maintaining the grip (tension and shortness) of the abdominal muscles after the exhalation it makes it easier to expand the chest on a subsequent inhalation.

Many people have dif¿culty breathing with both the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles and are unable to expand their thorax unless they breathe quite forcefully with relatively fast and deep breathing [Table 8.1]. Fast, deep breathing forces the abdominal muscles to become activated (tense) to get the air out quickly and fully and, since the abdominal muscles have no time to relax after the exhalation, the subsequent inhalation is done with the abdomen ¿rm, thus forcing the thorax (chest and upper back) to expand.

Similarly, there are many people who can not easily relax their abdomen. Their abdominal muscles hold so much tension that these people are unable to breathe into their abdomen, and are hardly able to use their diaphragm at all, unless they spend time focusing on relaxation and slower breathing [Table 8.1]. These people tend to be doing mainly thoracic breathing while doing any physical activity.

In terms of the bandhas, the complete inhalation, i.e. the maximum possible inhalation, can be done with a tha-uddiyana bandha (chest expansion) followed and supplemented by a tha-mula bandha (abdominal expansion), while the maximum possible exhalation can be done with a ha-mula bandha (abdominal contraction) followed and supplemented by a ha-uddiyana bandha (chest contraction).

Table 8.1 compares the effects of two extreme types of breathing (fast deep breathing compared to slow shallow or tidal breathing) on the various body systems. These are only two of the many breathing possibilities that exist and each have varying effects. There is no such thing as right or wrong breathing but one must use the type of breathing that is appropriate for the situation.

Both the thoracic breathing and abdominal breathing confer possible bene¿ts and disadvantages. Ideal yogic breathing is a combination of the most advantageous aspects of both fast, deep breathing and slow, shallow breathing [Table 8.1]. In ideal yogic breathing, the three central bandhas (jalandhara, uddiyana, and mula) [Section 7.4.1] are held throughout the breath cycle. To initially learn to maintain a grip on the three bandhas, the thorax should be kept expanded (tha-uddiyana bandha) throughout the breath cycle as it would be during thoracic breathing inhalation; the lower abdomen should be kept ¿rm and drawn inwards (ha-mula bandha), as in a forced exhalation; while the back of the neck is kept long and the chin kept slightly down and inwards (ha-jalandhara bandha) [Section 7.4.1].
In optimal yogic breathing, slow relaxed diaphragmatic breathing is used to respire only a small amount of air per minute, but with the chest and abdomen held in such a way that only a small volume of air is needed to ¿ll and then empty the lung. In the most advanced stages of pranayama the key emphasis should be not on increasing lung volume from breath to breath but rather on increasing the pressure in the chest with each inhale without increasing the volume. p238

Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga http://anatomy.yogasynergy.com/book

Update 2


"I arrived just in time. Giving me a few lessons a week, he started with a simple asana practice. I was to establish a link between breath and movement. Breathing should be controlled hand movements, slower breathing, the slower the movement. Each asana followed repeated at least four times. After one hour lesson in a sitting position, I learned the sound Udzhdzhayi and be able to distinguish it from the nasal sound. He allowed me to begin the simplest Pranayama - Udzhdzhayi Anuloma and Udzhdzhayi Viloma.

Krishnamacharya used to tell me, "lift up your chest," for the fact that, due to the rise of my chest, I could fill the air flow based on my lungs. After that, he insisted on the exhale with the abdominal muscles and the perineum. Breathe in and out - of course, but with the insertion of pauses, everything changes. Coached control is felt as an affirmation of life and gives a sense of a better life, by controlling breathing and blood circulation, which are interrelated. This is what I felt.


UPDATE 2

Thank you to Enrique for sending through these pages from 

The first two are from Indra Devi's Yoga For you.

Indra Devi famously studied with Krishnamacharya  for a short period in the 1930s, is this how Krishnamacharya taught her to breath or an approach she embraced later based on other sources.

An earlier post on Indria Devi which includes 'In the shala', a chapter from one of her books on her experience studying with Krishnamacharya.

Friday, 8 November 2013
Photo: Indra Devi teaching Marilyn Monroe Yoga 1960 ALSO Indra Devi in Mysore







The second two pages are from are from an Italian edition of Yvonne's Millerand Guide pratique de HathaYoga. I can't read Italian, perhaps some of Italian readers of the blog might be able to offer a partial translation of the relevant paragraphs.

My earlier post on Yvonne Millerand

Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Yvonne Millerand student of Krishnamacharya in the 1960's inc. some excellent pictures.









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Simon Borg-Oliver and His business partner Bianca Machliss




Website


See also
Simon and Bianca's online course


Yoga Synergy Online Teacher Training and Education


Preview of Simon's excellent book Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga



See also my earlier post on Simon's book

Friday, 6 March 2015

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

UPDATE

Simon made me fall in love with my SPINE all over again.


This full class by Simon from Bali, for Stu at Love Yoga anatomy...


is is a wonderful presentation of much that you can find in the spinal sequence series of youtube posts below as well as in the Yoga Synergy fundamentals course.

Tricky to follow some of the arm movements but you can get close enough for jazz.




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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

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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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