Archive for the ‘Health through Yoga’ Category

Accessible Spinal Movements for Internal Health, External Energy and a Pain Free Back

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.

Figure 1: The list of main postures in the spinal movements sequence is as follows:
1. ‘Complete spinal lengthening posture’ (Urdhva hasta merudanda 
2. ‘Back spinal lengthening posture’ (Pascima merudanda tadâsana)
3. ‘Front spinal lengthening posture’ (Purva merudanda tadâsana)
4. ‘Side spinal lengthening posture’ (Parsva merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)
5. ‘Twisted spinal lengthening posture (Parivrtta merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)

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:

  1. ‘Complete spinal lengthening posture’ (Urdhva hasta merudanda tadâsana)
  2. ‘Back spinal lengthening posture’ (Pascima merudanda tadâsana)
  3. ‘Front spinal lengthening posture’ (Purva merudanda tadâsana)
  4. ‘Side spinal lengthening posture’ (Parsva merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)
  5. ‘Twisted spinal lengthening posture (Parivrtta merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)

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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.

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:

Simon Borg-Olivier in Parsva parivrtta san calana mudra (Image © Nick Aldridge)

Figure 1: In this photo I am moving my body and in a relatively difficult posture side-lengthening, twisting, backward bending lunging posture while doing a fairly advanced breath-control exercise. It is recommended that unless you are very experienced it is best to do natural breathing while movement. (Photo courtesy Nick Aldridge)

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.

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How to Clean Your Body and Mind: Kriya Yoga

Simon Borg-Oliver Practicing Nauli Kriya

Simon Borg-Oliver Practicing Nauli Kriya

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.




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What I Learnt From Doing Yoga Underwater

by Simon Borg-Olivier 

What I learnt from doing yoga underwater:

1. How to use my ‘inner body’ to move and enter postures rather than relying on gravity or momentum.

2. How to flow smoothly between postures in curves rather than jagged edges in order to gather energy with each movement rather than just expend energy.

3. How to move in and out of postures while holding your breath in or out.

In my youth I was uncomfortable with swimming on top of the water. My first yoga was taught to me by my father George Borg-Olivier in 1966 in the form of holding my breath underwater. With his help I was able to swim the 50 metres of an Olympic pool underwater before I was able to swim on top of the water. I have since practiced my ‘underwater yoga’ most of my life. In this thick medium where you can not breathe, and gravity is often neutralised, this practice has taught me so much about how yoga can be done on land.

In the following 6 minute video you can see me practice a one-minute version of the Yoga Synergy ‘Yoga Fundamentals’ introductory sequence, some underwater spiral spinal movement ‘lotus’ swimming, some floor postures and an ‘underwater lotus handstand’. Following this, I demonstrate a very similar sequence of spinal movements on land, that is really accessible to most people, and very effective in relieving back pain, improving internal health, enhancing strength and flexibility as well as increasing energy levels.


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Exhale for Pleasure, Strength and Freedom


Simon Borg-Olivier in Kulphasana: The Long Exhalation to Freedom (Photo Courtesy Donatella Parisini)

Simon Borg-Olivier in Kulphasana: The Long Exhalation to Freedom (Photo Courtesy Donatella Parisini)

In this short video below I discuss the seven main ways you can exhale and how by understanding and mastering these ways of exhalation you can stimulate the pleasure centres of your brain, improve core strength, save energy, reduce stress, make your spine more mobile and flexible, and massage your internal organs to improve the function of your digestive system, immune system and reproductive system.

The body can derive benefit from making passive minimal exhalations, which are seemingly effortless and help promote a calm restful state; and complete exhalations, which benefit the body by eliminating toxins from the body in the ‘stale’ air. The seven (7) main ways to exhale shown in this video and some of their applications are as follows:


1. Passive Abdominal Exhale
2. Passive Chest Exhale
3. Passive Postural Exhale
4. Active Postural Exhale
5. Forced Oblique Abdominal Exhale
6. Transverse Abdominis (TA) Exhale
7. Active Chest Exhale

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