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Archive for the ‘Hatha Yoga Postures’ Category

Are you doing your yoga for now, or are you doing exercise, so you can do yoga later?

By Simon Borg-Olivier  MSc BAppSc (Physiotherapy) 

Most people in the world of modern yoga are not actually doing yoga while they are engaged in the activities of posture, movement, and breathing, but instead, they are doing exercise or having a workout, which is often painful, or at least uncomfortable, and after which they are often tired, and hungry.

This is not wrong as such, and this type of practice, if you can persist with it, can make you stronger and more flexible fairly rapidly,  but it can also put a lot of people off yoga as it tends to increase stress levels, pain, and the chances of injury.

Are you doing yoga, or are you doing exercise?

In my youth, this was the type of practice that I often did. When you are young, in your teens and early twenties, many people have a healthy body and lots of energy to spare. But when you are over thirty, and especially when you enter you forties, fifties and beyond, it is not so important to do exercise that makes you stronger and more flexible, but more important to do yoga that keeps your muscles and bones healthy, decreases stress levels while increasing your energy levels and enhancing the health of your internal organs.

I am now in my fifties, and for me, yoga in the last 15 years has become a blissful activity that feels amazing while practicing it. After finishing my practice, I feel calmer, more peaceful and grounded, yet I have more energy, I am less hungry,  and feel like I have had a good rest. This may sound silly to some people, but my practice usually feels like I am in a warm bath being massaged by someone who loves me. After my practice I feel more flexible without having done any intense stretching exercises, I feel like I have made myself stronger without feeling any tension, and I feel like I have improved my circulation without making my heart work much harder.

BIanca Machliss and Simon Borg-Olivier in Dvanda Garuda Sirsasana

BIanca Machliss and Simon Borg-Olivier in Dvanda Garuda Sirsasana


Most people block their yoga

Things that people mostly associate with yoga are also the things that actually stop your yoga. On a global level, one could say that yoga is ‘the realisation that your individual consciousness is one with universal consciousness.’ This is the idea perhaps that we are all connected as one family, and that the universe is one integrated whole. But on a physical level, individual and personal yoga is to do with realising that the mind and the whole body are connected as one integrated and functional unit. The best way to achieve this physical connection and truly realise it is to enhance the flow of energy and information through the body. This on a practical level means, amongst other things, improving the flow of blood to the blood vessels. In other words, enhancing circulation within the body. The contemporary Chines Master Zhen Hua Yang says that there are only three things you have to do to get yoga in your body:

  1. Unblock the blockages (that prevent the movement of energy in the body)
  2. Make the energy move
  3. Just sit back and enjoy the natural state of paradise inside us that is our natural state.


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Nerve Tensioning: Lengthening and Untangling Nerves to Improve Strength, Flexibility and Wellbeing


Are your muscles not working as well as they used to? Are you getting unexplained pain or altered sensations in your arms or your legs? You may be able to get some improvement in your condition by mobilising your nerve tissue, which is also known as nerve tensioning, or neural mobilisation and often -although incorrectly - as ‘nerve stretching’.

Nerve tensioning is often referred to as ‘nerve stretching’ for simplicity. However, because the actual nerve tissue is rarely stretched without potentially causing damage, the technically correct term for what is occurring during many yoga asanas (postures) and mudras (energy controlling gestures), is nerve tensioning or neural mobilisation.

Contraindications of neural mobilisation or nerve tensioning (i.e. situations where nerve stretching should not be done) include irritable conditions, inflammation, signs of spinal cord compromise, malignancy, nerve root compression, peripheral neuropathy (disorders of the peripheral nerves), and complex regional pain syndrome (burning pain that may occur in the arm or leg after an injury or surgery).

Neural mobilisation (‘nerve stretching’ or neural tensioning) is a technique that was developed by David Butler in Australia [Butler, 1996]. Nerves, like all soft tissues in the body, can become restricted and tight and become a source of pain. Shortening of nerves can be due to trauma or injury, or the result of ongoing poor posture. This is often the case with neck and arm pain. Neural mobilisation uses specific postures that can tension neural tissues and gently stretch target nerves. Butler suggests that altered neurodynamics are the cause of many problems including headaches, and that appropriate neural mobilisation can provide relief. Studies have shown neural mobilisation techniques to be effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndorme [Tal- Akabi & Rushton, 2000], chronic lateral elbow pain with signs of nerve entrapment [Elkstrom & Holden, 2002], thoracic outlet syndrome [Mackinnon & Novak, 2002], sciatica and lower back pain [Miller, 2005]. Hatha yoga also has many asanas (static postures) and mudras (energy-control gestures) that can apply tension (stretch) to specific nerves [ see Figures 9.1 - 9.8].


Simon borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss tensioning the radial nerve in the elephant stance (Gadjasthana) in a special class with all the other yoga synergy teachers

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Don’t Lock Your Core … Move From Your Core

Be firm but calm. Move from your ‘core’. Breathe from your ‘core’. Open your ‘heart’ from your ‘core’.

In this blog we discuss how to move towards advanced postures safely and effectively. More importantly, we discuss how, if you learn to move in the way described here, you don’t need to do advanced postures to get the main benefits of yoga on a physical and energetic level.

Natural joint movements are coupled together and are initiated from the ‘core’, i.e. when you move one joint it affects other joints, and each movement should start from your ‘core’. Hence, when you are doing complex postures such as the ‘legs behind the head’ variations shown in this blog, it is important to acknowledge this, and make your movements with the understanding that they should be coupled together and are initiated from the ‘core’. This is a complex concept to explain and for most people it is even more complex to it do in a safe and effective way.

The postures I am demonstrating here (Figures 1 and 2) are lots of fun, but I have seen many people injure themselves especially in their sterno-clavicular joints (between your breast bone and collar bones), the sterno-costal joint (between the breast bone and the ribs) and the lower back.

Figure 1: Simon Borg-Olivier in the 'Sleeping tortoise posture' (Supta Kurmasana)

Figure 1: Simon Borg-Olivier in the ‘Sleeping tortoise posture’ (Supta Kurmasana) (photo courtesy Alejandro Rolandi)


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Breathing (Part 2): Passive Seated Pranayama: Generate Internal Energy by Doing Less than Nothing

With a good understanding of the anatomy and physiology of breathing, it is possible to create energy by doing less than nothing.

That is to say that if you think doing nothing means simply lying down and relaxing then you can actually do less than nothing by breathing less than you would normally do in that situation.

According to popular belief, pranayama or true yogic breathing, as it is sometimes called, has to do with breathing more than normal. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nearly anyone can breathe 5 full breaths in one minute, but people who can breathe just one breath in 5 minutes are harder to find. Breathing less than normal (hypoventilation) is much harder yet much more beneficial than breathing more than normal (hyperventilation).

The old yoga adage goes something like this: ‘The yogi counts their life not by the number of years they live but by the number of breaths they take”. Even common logic tells us the same. Really fit people run fast and may hardly breathe at all, while unfit people who move quite slowly can often be seen to be breathing heavily, or even panting.

Pranayama can be done most simply by sitting on a chair. In fact , the main purpose of this article is to describe some of the most basic breath-control exercises that give the most significant results on a physiological level, yet are quite accessible to most people.

One major benefit of these simple breath-control exercises is an increased energy level, initially manifested by feeling significantly warmer (a result of greater blood flow),  and accompanied by a focused, grounded and calm state of mind, with a slower than normal heart rate. These simple breath-control exercises will be described in detail below.


In Figure 1, you can see examples of much more complex types of pranayama that take years of regular practice to master and are only accessible to few people. These will also be described in a general way at the end of this article.

Yoga Synergy Anatomy Physiology Book Chapter 8 Breathing

Figure 1: Various postures used in a number of advanced pranayamas (breath-control techniques);
(a) ujjayi pranayama in antara kumbhaka (inhalation retention) with ha-jalandhara bandha, ha-uddiyana bandha, ha-mula bandha, dharana mudra
(b) puraka (inhalation) in sitkali pranayama with tha-jalandhara bandha;
(c) ujjayi with antara kumbhaka, ha-jalandhara bandha, tha-uddiyana bandha, ha-mula bandha;
(d) ujjayi pranayama with san mukhi mudra;
(e) nadi sodhana pranayama;
(f) kloman mudra with tha-jalandhara bandha;
(g) sitali pranayama with kaki mudra;
(h) kevala kumbhaka (minimal breathing) in baddha padmasana;
(i) bahya kumbhaka (exhalation retention) with ha-jalandhara bandha, tha-uddiyana bandha, ha-mula bandha in bhadrasana;
(j) bahya kumbhaka with ha-jalandhara bandha, tha-uddiyana bandha, tha-mula bandha in bhagasana; (k) bahya kumbhaka with ha- jalandhara bandha, tha-uddiyana bandha, tha-mula bandha in bhadrasana;
(l) bahya kumbhaka with ha-jalandhara bandha, tha-uddiyana bandha, ha-mula bandha (obliquus externus abdominis isolation), and simha mudra in yoni dandasana;
(m) bahya kumbhaka with ha-jalandhara bandha, tha-uddiyana bandha and tha-mula bandha in the form of nauli (rectus abdominis isolation) in mulabandhasana.
From ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’ by SImon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss.

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Yoga Therapy for Knee Problems

by Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca  Machliss

Bianca and I have just completed presenting our 2015 Yoga Therapy course.

It was a really good course and one of the highlights was meeting Matthias St. John, an amazingly talented young man who came to see us to get help with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

We have developed 17 co-activation exercises that are progressively more challenging for the knee and to be able to practice. An ACL deficient knee is usually very unstable unless can simultaneously tense (co-activate) all of the muscles around the knee joint complex. Matthias St. John is the only person who I have ever in my experience been able to perform all these exercises while keeping stable and continuous co-activation of the opposing muscles around the knee joint complex.

The most extreme of these movements is to rotate his weight bearing and flexed knee forwards backwards and sideways around his heel while balances on one leg. This is a testament to his skill as a roller blading expert.

Please view the short linked video of Mathias and you will see that although the things his knee has to do are very extreme and although many of these extreme knee movements would potentially dislocate most peoples knees, he has sufficient flexibility, strength and control to co-activate his knee muscles in ways that most people can not.

It is a lesson to all therapists that although we sometimes think of certain exercises as being dangerous but as the old adage says “ if it doesn’t kill you it will make you stronger” (but normal people should note that if it does kill you will kind of miss the point! So most people are definitely not qualified to do most of the knee movements (or other extreme movements) that Matthias demonstrates in his video.

Knee problems are amongst the most common physical problems experienced by adults in our western society – many students of yoga, arrive at yoga with a pre-existing knee problem, and some, unfortunately, get knee problems as a result of incorrect yoga practice.

Knee problems that occur as a result of yoga are often due to Western yoga practitioners who start yoga late in life with stiff hips and ankles trying to prematurely force themselves into extreme postures of the knee [such as those shown in Figure 1].

Hip stiffness is less common in non-Western cultures partly because of a lifestyle, which includes squatting to go to the toilet and sitting cross-legged since childhood.

About 20 years ago, after already teaching yoga for 10 years, our understanding of how to deal with knee problems was greatly improved when we both went back to Sydney University as mature age students to become physiotherapists. After many years of experimentation and research we successfully blended our understanding of traditional hatha yoga with western medical science to develop our synergy-style of yoga.

Synergy style is essentially a dynamic and meditative yoga, which applies the basic principles of anatomy and physiology of yoga to the western body.

Figure 1a & 1b: (a) Bianca Machliss in mulabandhasana (downward ankle-twist pose): and (b) Simon Borg-Olivier in kandasana (upward ankle-twist pose): Both of us have had injuries in knee ligaments and cartilage (menisci) but an active approach to yoga with a sound basis in applied anatomy and physiology allows us to now practice postures that would be quite stressful for most people’s knees.

Figure 1a & 1b: (a) Bianca Machliss in mulabandhasana (downward ankle-twist pose): and (b) Simon Borg-Olivier in kandasana (upward ankle-twist pose): Both of us have had injuries in knee ligaments and cartilage (menisci) but an active approach to yoga with a sound basis in applied anatomy and physiology allows us to now practice postures that would be quite stressful for most people’s knees.

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