by Simon Borg-Olivier
In every day life many people do not get enough sideways movement and freedom. Sideways ‘stretches’ (spinal lateral flexion) are really important movements and postures, and are often understated and not practiced in many exercise, stretching and yoga classes.
In this post we demonstrate a simple side stretch (Figure 1 and Figure 2) that can be simply done from standing, and can even be performed with normal clothes on while you are at work. I also give detailed instructions with the application of 18 different bandhas throughout the body for performing two well known ‘side-stretching’ postures from the classic book by Sri BKS Iyengar “Light on Yoga” named Utthita Parsvakonasana (Lateral Angle Posture, Figure 3) and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolving Lateral Angle Posture, Figure 4). Once performed using these bandhas these postures become very effective methods to enhance your levels of energy and can be an effective means of preventing and relieving joint pain.
The simplest ‘side-stretch’ (Figure 1 and Figure 2) can be done as follows without trying to overstretch or cause pain:
- stand with your legs about hip width apart and your knees slightly bent
- push the sitting bones down, and move the top of the hips back to lengthen the lower back
- move your lower front ribs back and lift and slightly round out your upper back
- lift your left shoulder (and also your whole arm if possible) as high as you can (shoulder past your ears if possible)
- push your right shoulder downwards and lengthen your right hand towards to the floor
- lean on your left leg and then push the right ‘sitting-bone’ slightly up and forwards and come onto your right toe tip.
- breathe naturally into your abdomen and make sure you do not over stretch or cause pain.
by Simon Borg-Olivier
Many people in Australia and around the world are now practicing postures and movements, similar to those seen in hatha yoga, on poles in ‘Pole dance’ studios and on hanging circus silks and rope inversion swings. I was fortunate enough to learn how to do yoga on poles and ropes two decades ago in India in the traditional Indian training system called Mallakhamb.
Lessons I learnt from practicing yoga postures on poles and ropes in India:
1. Move your spine actively from your core.
2. Use your inner thigh muscles more in your ground based exercise.
3. Use the muscles at the back of your knees more in your ground based exercise.
4. Learn to move slowly when it is easy to go quickly into a posture and learn to move fast when it is easy to go slowly.
5. Do not be dependant on the external force of gravity to move your body into positions
6. Strengthen your back muscles by practicing bending backwards using your back muscles.
7. Release and relax your back muscles by using your bending forward muscles and breathing into your abdomen
Mallakhamb is a traditional Indian sport in which the practitioner practices yoga-like postures and movements on a vertical wooden pole or a rope. The name Mallakhamb is derived from the terms malla which means a wrestler and khamb which means a pole. Mallakhamb can therefore be translated to English as “the wrestler’s pole”.
I was inspired to write this blog after the amazing experiences I had learning with the wonderful teachers and students of the ‘Maharashtra Mandel’ in Tilak Road, Pune, India. I had the honour of training with these guys every afternoon on all the 8 x one month long trips I had in Pune to study with Sri BKS Iyengar from 1986 to 1997. I would usually do practice or class with Guruji (Mr Iyengar) or his amazing son Prashant ji or brilliant daughter Geeta ji in the morning and then practice pole or rope Mallakhamb in the afternoon.
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In this blog I will be discussing how to monitor and reduce your stress levels by using your heart rate, some simple berthing exercises and some other ‘tricks’. You can very simply improve you overall internal health, especially that of your nervous system and your immune system by increasing your heart rate variability (HRV). This can be most easily done if you can learn to inhale for 6 seconds and exhale for 6 seconds . The heart appears to work in a 12 second cycle when you are resting or doing simple tasks. You can synchronise your breathing to your heart rate by inhaling for 6 seconds as your heart rate increases, and your exhale for 6 seconds as your heart rate decreases.
This photo shows a graph of my heart rate variability (HRV) over 5 smooth breaths in a simple seated posture. Notice how on inhalation (line going up) my heart rate goes up to as high as 72 beats per minute. Then when I exhale (line going down) my heart rate goes down to as low as 42 beats per minute. Increased HRV is one the best indicators of internal health. Good yoga can easily teach this. For adults HRV is generally very poor without something like good yoga in your life. Much of the yoga practices I see around the world actually causes more stress (and worse HRV) than good health. Yoga is ideally the art of doing stressful things while being relaxed yet getting stronger and fitter. My nine year old daughter Amaliah did this exercise and her HRV went back and forth between 38 to 115 beats per minute on each breath while just sitting relaxed for a few minutes. Now that’s the healthy state most kids have! Adults have to work for it!
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by Simon Borg-Olivier
In this blog I want to discuss some points about Kundalini energy and Chakras. Much of the information available on the subject of Kundalini is esoteric and so not easy to justify with rational conventional science. I think the best explanation of the science of kundalini comes from Jana Dixon and her excellent book ‘The Biology of Kundalini”. The main purpose of this blog is to elucidate a few simple points that relate to the physical locations of the chakras and how controlling these can help you to improve the health of your spine, your internal organs and your circulation.
In Figure 1b and the in the attached video below are two beautiful 3 metre pythons that live in our house (mostly in the roof). My herpetologist mentor Professor Rick Shine says that they are either making love or wrestling for dominance for mating. Actually seeing them do this is very rare and special and so reminds me of many amazing things including the double stranded helix of the DNA molecule that holds the blueprints of our genetics. They also remind me of the mystery of kundalini, the coiled serpent-like energy lying mostly dormant at the base of our spines.
The inter-coiling of two snakes is such a common symbol in our mythology that is represented most obviously in the Caduceus, which is the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology. One myth suggests that Hermes saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat. He separated them with a wand and thus brought about peace between them. As a result the wand with two serpents came to be seen as a sign of love and peace. This is related to the seemingly combatant sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems coiling up the spinal cord. Mostly the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are seen to have opposing functions, the sympathetic is for ‘flight, fight or freeze’ while the parasympathetic is for ‘relaxation, recovery and rejuvenation’. In many situations one will dominate and subdue the other, but in some situations such as in heightened sexual arousal both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work together in harmony to hopefully create love and peace.
In hatha yoga the two spiralling snakes are referred to as the nadis (subtle channels) Ida and Pingala and the spinal cord contains the sushumna nadi. When viewed from above the head the spiralling of these channels looks like the yin yang symbol or even the ancient swastika symbol . The places where the snake-like spiral nadis crossover up the trunk is the supposed location of the main chakras (energy centres) of the body. Each of these main chakras corresponds to and seemingly has relationships with main endocrine glands and also major nerve plexi. The ‘opening’ or ‘unlocking’ of, and the voluntary control of the chakras is a major aim in hatha yoga and can in fact be the tool that allows yoga and yoga therapy to be effective. In order to heal any part of the body especially the internal organs or body systems the only thing we can actually control is our mind, which can control muscles, which can affect posture movement and breathing.
A common belief in yoga circles is that a key step to allowing the kundalini energy to rise up the spine is to open up or unblock the chakras. The question is …‘What does this mean on a scientific level? In this blog I want to describe prana (energy or life energy) and, what can be thought of as its more subtle form, chitta (information or consciousness), then describe a few key points related to the regions associated with the main spinal chakras and their associated nerves plexi and endocrine glands. These are the points that the mind can focus on while regulating posture, movement and breathing. These points can make any physical yoga practice as well as any physical exercise or therapy safer and more effective to give health and longevity as the main aim and strength, flexibility and endurance as by-products.
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by Simon Borg-Olivier
In this 9 minute video I am using my understanding as a physiotherapist and yoga teacher to give exercises to my 9 month old son Eric. This training takes advantage of the natural spinal reflexes that are most prevalent in babies. These spinal reflexes help to facilitate the exercises that I am getting him to practice. I think it beneficial to gently and intelligently introduce the first stages of these exercises from as early as one day old. At the end of the video you can see some photos of how Eric and his sister (who was given a similar program as a baby) have developed up to about 7 years old.
Babies and children can be exercised from a very early age. I believe it is important to play with your children and also to massage them. I would like to also emphasise that you have to be careful with what you do of course, and always monitor your child’s reactions (for example smiling or crying). Many people tend to be overcautious with young children when actually even babies are quite resilient and really thrive with physical stimulation. As in the case of adults it is important to build up to each new exercise in a slow, gentle and progressive manner. Also for children it is important to not pull them unexpectedly by their arms or legs as this may damage their joints, but with gentle training even babies can use their own strength to hold their entire body weight.
The main spinal reflex that I take advantage of is the ‘stretch reflex’ (myotatic reflex). The ‘stretch reflex’ causes the reflex activation (tensing or ‘switching on’ of any muscle that is unexpectedly lengthened by a force that is external body (such as gravity or the use of another persons limbs). I use this reflex with Eric, for example, by having him sit up cross-legged and then while holding his thighs I (an external force) gently try to push him backwards (spinal extension and hip extension). The sudden lengthening of his abdominal muscles (spinal flexors) and the front of his hips (hip flexors) makes his abdominal muscles and the muscles at the front of his hips (hip flexors) active (tense or ‘switched on’) and thus helps him to practice doing ‘sit up’ exercises. Similarly, when I hold him in the air by the hips facing down and let his upper body fall towards the floor, the back of his trunk and back of his hips get a sudden lengthening (stretch) and this cause the ‘stretch reflex’ activation of the his back muscles (spinal extensors) and the muscles at the back of his hips (hip extensors). In another exercise I balance Eric on my shoulders and then I move suddenly causing Eric’s legs to move away from my shoulders and causing his inner thighs to unexpectedly lengthen. The sudden lengthening of his inner thighs initiates a ‘stretch reflex’ activation of his inner thigh muscles, which enable him to squeeze his thighs against my shoulders so as to not lose his grip. The same principle allows Eric to stand on my hand. Although his balance is not yet developed, so he can not stand by himself (and would not encourage standing at his age anyway) he nevertheless has no problems standing on my hand because as soon as his knees want to bend with gravity the muscles in front of the knee (knee extensors) become lengthened by the (external) force of gravity and cause a ‘stretch reflex’ activation of these muscles to keep him standing. All of this work can be also applied to adults in similar ways.
This video and lot of related information for adults is taught in the Yoga Synergy online course ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’ as well as the live 200 hour ‘Yoga Synergy Teacher Training’ Courses.