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By Simon Borg-Olivier, 20th August 2014
Today was the passing of our beloved Guruji. For those of us who were privileged enough to have met him and study under his guidance it is a sad day. We send our love to him and his beautiful family, especially to his two children Geetaji and Prashantji from whom we have also learnt so much. I think that the world of modern yoga owes a debt of gratitude to Mr Iyengar. We are all lucky to have been living in the same time as him. Very few people who practice yoga today have not been affected by his brilliant teachings.
I have so many great memories of Guruji as I am sure so many people have as well. On this special but sad day I just wanted to share a few of his sayings and some old photos that me and Bianca Machliss have from our studies with him in the 1980′ and 1990′s.
Basic Spinal Movements
In this blog I will be examining a sequence of postures done from a simple standing posture that in its simplest form involves moving the trunk and spine into its 8 main ‘pure’ positions. This is one of the most effective and accessible practices for anyone and can give tremendous release of back and other pain as well as significantly increasing energy levels, improving functional core strength, reducing stress and improving the health of your internal organs.
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.
This simple but effective spinal movements sequence forms the basis of the YogaSynergy Fundamentals Sequence as taught in our 120 hour online course
A. Structure of the ‘Spinal Movements Sequence’ (Meru danda tada vinyâsa):
The eight main movements of the spine that are practiced in this sequence (vinyâsa) are actually 4 opposing pairs of movements. These are:
1a. ‘Shortening’ (Spinal compression) (standing with a ‘neutral spine’),
1b. ‘Lengthening’ (Spinal traction) (standing with a straight spine),
2a. ‘Forward bending’ (Spinal flexion) (lengthening the back of the body),
2b. ‘Backward bending’ (Spinal extension) (lengthening the front of the body),
3a, 3b. ‘Sideways bending’ to right and left (Spinal lateral flexion) and
4a, 4b. ‘Twisting’ (Spinal axial rotation) to right and to left side
The purpose of this smooth flowing and dynamic linked sequence of postures (vinyâsa) is to enliven the spine by moving each vertebra.
This sequence acts directly on the spine by guiding it to move with its own volition. The shoulders and hips are used to assist the spine in order to utilise and enhance the connections within the body.
The actual list of main postures in this sequence is as follows:
- ‘Complete spinal lengthening posture’ (Urdhva hasta merudanda tadâsana)
- ‘Back spinal lengthening posture’ (Pascima merudanda tadâsana)
- ‘Front spinal lengthening posture’ (Purva merudanda tadâsana)
- ‘Side spinal lengthening posture’ (Parsva merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)
- ‘Twisted spinal lengthening posture (Parivrtta merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)
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.
Most people should do only natural breathing (simple breath-control) in posture and during movement:
It is best for most people (until they are very experienced) to practice posture and movement separate to specific breath-control. It is difficult for most people do more than one thing at once while they each still being learnt. What tends to happen when people try to learn posture and breathing at the same time is that either the posture or the breathing is compromised. Compromising the posture lead to damaged muscles, ligaments or joints. compromising breathing could lead to over-tension, over-stress and the problems of over-breathing (hyperventilation). Natural breathing has three fundamental properties
1. inhalation is diaphragmatic (abdominal)
2. exhalation is passive
3. the amount of breathing is minimal
Only very experienced people should practice advanced breath-control exercises in complex posture and during movement:
In Figure 1 I am doing advanced spinal breathing during complex movement. I follow a path of inhalation that lasts up to 2 minutes on some breaths and a path of inhalation that last up to 2 minutes for exhalation on other breaths. As I ‘breathe into’ a part of the trunk I simultaneously expand that part, lengthen it, relax it and focus on it as I move it. When I ‘breathe out of’ part of the trunk I simultaneously expand that opposite part of the trunk, lengthen it, relax it and focus on it as I move it. This can create quite complex patterns for the mind to visualise but it also has very heating effect and does wonders to the strength, flexibility and wellbeing of the trunk, spine, internal organs and energy levels. In the simplest physical version of this exercise I twist my body to the left side while spiralling my breath around the trunk lengthening first the back f the body, then right side, then the front and then then left side, then I repeat a similar breathing starting from the opposite side in the opposite direction. Before you attempt this it is best to practice long slow breathing in a seated posture (see Part 2 of this blog to come soon), and separately practice the movements with natural breathing.
How to ‘open’ your mid-spine in back bends and not squash your lower back:
*** Lengthen your Psoas at the hips (hip extension) and immobilse L5-S1
*** Breathe in to your abdomen (use your diaphragm)
*** Breathe out from your chest (ha-uddiyana bandha)
*** Psoas then extends your spine from T12-L5 (and not L5-S1) because the diaphragm attaches to the psoas, which joins to T12-L5
Most modern adults tend to have very stiff middle backs (usually from about the tenth thoracic vertebra (T10) to the fourth lumbar vertebra (L4). This region (T10-L4) is stuck in a slight forward bend (spinal flexion) in many modern adults. These people usually do most of their bending backwards (spinal extension) from the very lowest part of the mobile spine at junction between the fifth lumbar vertebra and the first sacral vertebra (L5-S1). L5-S1 is usually located about 2 centimetres below the top of your hips (iliac crests). Since this part of your spine is below the top of the hips, it is actually very hard to relieve compression there by bending the spine forward because when most people bend forward, they primarily do so bending forward from the hips, which is something we are very good at doing due to our primarily seated lifestyle in which we are always bending forward from the hips. Once you have the ability to bend from the spine rather than the hips you have the key to relieving back pain and also the key to doing very safe and effective ‘backbends’ (spinal extension postures).
This ‘info-graphic’ put together quite loosely describe the steps you can do in a backward bending (spinal extension) posture. These steps will help you bend backwards where most people tend to be stiff – between T10 and L4 – and bend forward (spinal flexion) where most people tend to be compressed (and often stuck in a permanent backward-bending state (spinal extension) at L5-S1.
By Simon Borg-Olivier, 1st April 2014
The sat-kriyas of hatha yoga are six kinds of ‘cleansing processes’ for the body and the mind. They have many manifestations. One of the best explanations of these sat-kriyas and their many variations can be found in the Yoga Makaranda of Sri T. Krishnamacharya.
The kriyas are of six types:
1. Dhauti Kriya,
2. Basti Kriya,
3. Neti Kriya,
4. Nauli Kriya,
5. Trataka Kriya, and
6. Kapalabhati Kriya.
There are many variations of each kriya. According to Sri T. Krishnamacharya some kriyas are as simple as brushing your teeth (Dantamula Dhauti) and some are as complex as pushing out part of your large intestine through your rectum and washing it with your hands (Bahish Kritha Dhauti)!
The sat-kriyas are also ancient yogic cleansing processes that can totally clean the digestive system. One kriya involves swallowing salty water and then passing through your bowels and out of the rectum (Vari Sara Dhauti). Another kriya involves swallowing a long cloth and the stomach is then ‘washed’ with the cloth (Vastra Dhauti).
In this short video filmed at the Yoga Synergy Teacher Training Course in Goa India this year, I demonstrate how to use Nauli Kriya (abdominal churning) as well as external pressure from my hands and by balancing my abdomen on my elbows (Mayurasana) to massage my internal organs. This yields some surprising results.
Please note this video was filmed on the 1st of April 2014.