Posts Tagged ‘uddiyana’

Breathing (Part 1): How to breathe to help your spine, internal organs and energy levels

In this and the next 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.

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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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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Holding your breath for increased strength, flexibility, healthier digestion and to eat less food

Simon Borg-Olivier doing Viparita Cakrasana (backward flipover) with antara kumbhaka (inhalation retention)

Simon Borg-Olivier doing Viparita Cakrasana (backward flipover) with antara kumbhaka (inhalation retention)

Although there are many benefits to learning how to use all the muscles of breathing, and to learn to breathe in many ways, in the more advanced stages of yoga it is the art of breathing less than normal (hypoventilation) that gives the most physiological benefits. The less you breathe in and out the more you will build up carbon dioxide inside your body. Contrary to popular belief, carbonic dioxide and the carbonic acid it becomes in your blood,  has many benefits inside the body.


THE EFFECTS OF INCREASING CARBON DIOXIDE IN THE BODY: Carbon dioxide and carbonic acid build up inside you from breathing less than normal (mild hypoventilation):

*** brings more blood to your brain and heart (vasodilation)

*** allows more air to enter your lungs (bronchdilitation)

*** calms your nervous system

*** reduces your need and craving for heavy, processed and acid food


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How to slow the heart from 88 beats to 32 beat per minute in 45 seconds

This video was shot in the Bahamas in October 2009 at William Truebridge’s Freediving Masterclass where I had the honour of being invited to teach these amazing elite athletes yogic techniques of how to be relaxed in stressful situations. The video shows me using breath-control techniques (pranayama) to slow my heart beat from 88 to 32 beats per minute in 45 seconds.

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Yoga for Low-Back Pain: Complementary Medicine Journal Article

Simple yoga stretches and exercises can help alleviate the highest cause of sick leave, say physiotherapists Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss. Simon Borg-Olivier, MScBAppSc(Physiotherapy), and Bianca Machliss, BScBAppSc(Physiotherapy), are the directors of Yoga Synergy.

These are diagrams from their 2005 article in the Journal of Complementary Medicine. Click on the diagrams to get the full enlarged views, or click on the link at the bottom of the page to view the entire article with the high resolution versions of these sequence sheets.

Yoga Synergy Back Pain Sequence Page 1, By Simon Borg-Olivier & Bianca Machliss

Yoga Synergy Back Pain Sequence Page 1, By Simon Borg-Olivier & Bianca Machliss

Yoga Synergy Back Pain Sequence Page 2, By Simon Borg-Olivier & Bianca Machliss

Yoga Synergy Back Pain Sequence Page 2, By Simon Borg-Olivier & Bianca Machliss

Notes: For many people most of the exercises described in this article are more effective in relieving lower back pain if you do not try to consciously tighten the abdomen by drawing the navel to the spine (or by trying to lift the abdomen off the floor while lying prone on the abdomen) but rather allow the abdomen to naturally firm by pushing slightly outwards (subject to no increase in discomfort) with the ability to still be able to breathe naturally with the diaphragm into the abdomen. To understand the two different main ways of drawing in the abdomen please see our blog on this subject by clicking here .

Spinal movements are the key to to improving circulation and energy levels, as well for improving trunk strength, and also for the prevention and relief of back pain. You can see the spinal movements sequence shown in the attached sequence sheets by clicking here  (first 2min 45 sec only). You can view a simpler spinal movements sequence by clicking here . This simpler sequence has proven to be the quickest, safest most effective therapy for lower back pain that we have ever designed.

Spinal Traction (figure 1): The most effective single posture that aids in the relief of lower back pain is the ‘standing active self-traction posture’ (figure 1 in the attached sequence sheets). To get the maximum benefit of self-traction you have to feel completely relaxed. The ability to breathe comfortably into the abdomen without feeling any tension is a sign that you are sufficiently relaxed that the spine is free to move and allow self-traction in a way that can release trapped nerves, relieve compressed discs and increase circulation through the trunk. It is also important to note that this is an active movement that is not only lengthening the trunk but also strengthening the core muscles of the spine. This is important because for many people passive stretching of the spine can actually increase pain while active lengthening of muscles of spine can increase strength without tension, length without stretching and can increase blood flow and improve circulation without needing to increase heart rate.

As a general rule for most normal people, who are prone to back pain the following instructions are the best way of doing backbends and forward bends.

These instructions are for backward-bending (spinal extension) and forward bending (spinal flexion) relative to positions such as standing erect.

Clinical research suggests that these instructions give the best results for improved circulation and energy levels, as well for trunk strength, and also for the prevention and relief of back pain.

Forward Bending (Spinal Flexion) (figure 2): Move the navel (and the L4-L5 region of the spine) forward and downwards.

Backward Bending (Spinal Extension) (figure 3): Move the navel (and the L4-L5 region of the spine) forward and upwards in order to lengthen the front of the body rather than shorten the back.

Sideways Bending to right side (Spinal lateral flexion to right) (figure 4): Move the navel (and the L4-L5 region of the spine) to the left side and upwards in order to lengthen the left side of the body rather than shorten the right side.

Sideways Bending to left side (Spinal lateral flexion to left): Move the navel (and the L4-L5 region of the spine) to the right side and upwards in order to lengthen the right side of the body rather than shorten the left side.

Twisting (Spinal axial rotation) (figure 5): Twist the spine by moving the navel (and the L4-L5 region of the spine) in the direction of the twist and then try to move each vertebra one at a time (or each region of the spine one at a time) up the spine. Try to move the spine separately from the hip.

Ideally with both bending forward and bending backwards movements (spinal flexion and extension) the front of the abdomen will appear to have been become firm with activation of the Rectus abdominis but the sides should remain relaxed especially near the ribs. This indicates that none of the abdominal obliques have become active and there is no inhibition of the diaphragm, which is what tends to happen if you simply draw the navel to the spine using the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation.

You can apply the instructions for forward bending in the attached sequence sheets for the spinal forward bend (2), the lunging front groin stretch (6b), the supine half sit-up postures (10 & 12), and the seated forward bend (16).

You can apply the instructions for backward bending in the attached sequence sheets for the spinal backward bend (3),  the standing hamstring stretch (7b), the prone spinal extension cobra/locust postures (8 & 9), and the bridge pose (14).

Click here to view the full article from the Journal of Complementary Medicine, 2005 by  Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss – Yoga for Low-Back Pain