Archive for the ‘Health through Yoga’ Category
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.
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:
- Unblock the blockages (that prevent the movement of energy in the body)
- Make the energy move
- Just sit back and enjoy the natural state of paradise inside us that is our natural state.
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].
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.
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.
by Simon Borg-Olivier & Bianca Machliss
Yoga has a recorded history of at least five thousand years (Feuerstein, 1996). Hatha yoga involves the physical aspect of this ancient Indian science. Hatha yoga uses strengthening and stretching exercises, aerobic conditioning, and relaxation exercises, to help improve posture and breathing.
The word ‘yoga’ means union, joining, or to link together as one whole. Hatha yoga is a physical method which uses the breath to link the various parts of the body and the mind and to allow them to behave as one functional unit.
The scientific validity of yoga and yoga therapy for asthma is quite well established (Singh et al, 1990; Nagendra & Nagarathna, 1986; Nagarathna & Nagendra, 1985: Goyesche etal, 1980, 1982). Studies have shown that yoga therapy is beneficial for bronchial asthma (Jain & Talukdar, 1993) and yoga training results in increased lung function and exercise capacity in young asthmatics (Jain et al, 1991).
Yoga builds fitness & aerobic conditioning
Many people do not realise that yoga can be quite dynamic and improve ones aerobic conditioning and general fitness. Yoga movements and postures such the ‘salute to the sun’ with its fun upward and downward facing dog postures, or a simple sequence of standing postures, can gradually be practiced in such a way as to increase the heart beat and even bring on a profuse sweat. The improvement in general fitness that yoga enables in a controlled, safe, and non-competitive environment helps condition and prepare children for everyday life activities.
Learning to breathe
Yoga is essentially the art of learning how to regulate and be comfortable with ones breath in all situations. Initially yoga simply makes the student aware of how they breathe normally in simple postures such as lying, sitting or standing. Students are then shown how to regulate and be relaxed with their breathing in passive postures such as lying on the floor or lying backward over a bolster so their chest and abdomen are passively stretched leaning forward over a chair so that their back spine is stretched and their diaphragm is rested. Gradually they are shown how to regulate the breath while remaining relaxed in more strenuous positions. Initially yoga breathing is taught as relaxed natural breathing. As students mature, and learn to remain relaxed they are gradually shown how to breathe more slowly. A slower breath allows less resistance in the airways. As students get used to breathing more slowly and in a more relaxed fashion during their yoga practice it makes it easier to deal with an asthma attack when only slow breathing is possible to get the air in’.