RELAXATION IS MOST OVERLOOKED AND VITAL TO LIFE
The reality is we are in a continuously oppressive, destructive environment. That doesn’t mean to set a negative tone or context; it just means there are numerous forces we have to deal with: environmentally, and through physics and so on. To put yourself in the savasana position requires a complete release of bodily tension, which is not what we allow to happen very much in other moments of our lives whether sitting or standing for example. The big aim is to get a balance of support and appropriate release of bodily tension in other areas. The common default response is to engage the peripheral areas which only serves to increase our tension, waste energy and weaken us, and makes holding your body in an upright position, whether for walking or for yoga asana more difficult, more problematic and therefore makes us definitely more prone to injury. When we go back to the concept of building it structurally from the base up, just like the good engineering with upright columns and cross beams, you are providing a continuous internal support through the pelvis to the spine, which is an automatic support for the viscera; and that support is like a continuous uplifting energy production.
Much like if you see yourself sitting there, you can’t see the degree of activity going on digestively, but it is going on. There is a whole support network that handles that. Now it’s still through spinal nerves that impacts this deeper support, but you’ve trained them to a point that metabolically supports functions more effectively. So that even when I’m sitting silently and still, it meets the environmental demands, (typical gravitational effects), to keep the body in support with freedom – which is the definition of Asana (Sthira sukham, asanam). In this state there is a continuous upward moving force inside, a centered, dynamic current. Good yoga practice awakens it. When that’s working, I can actually relax. I can relax with support; not collapse.
APPROPRIATE BODILY SUPPORT TO REDUCE STRESS AND INCREASE RELAXATION
Without the appropriate support the body, across its structure and inner organs, will experience a collapse, which is stress, an eventual increase of free radicals, causing not just injury but even inflammation rise and lead to disease production. As a personal example from my earlier years in sitting practice, although I have taken good care of my body to avoid the typical injury in asana practice, I had sat for hours and then allowed that support to slip, and though there was no bodily injury, there was a whole depression of activity inside, which led to a mental disturbance in meditation sitting practice and a heavier component in the body. Though I didn’t have to deal with a bad knee for example, I still had to deal with a collapse of pressure and a compromised body, which took about two weeks to settle down. These are not identifiable injuries to ligaments or tendons for example; this is an example of how when support is compromised, nervous functioning can be disturbed.
BREATH CAN IMPACT POSTURE AND BODILY SUPPORT WITH ITS OWN ADDITIONAL EFFECTS ON RELAXATION
It’s not just important to breathe when doing asana, it’s about how you manage the body in terms of breathing. If I initially put my focus on the exhale, a proper exhale is driven or managed by the engagement of the lower abdomen. Now a bad exhale will squeeze the upper abdomen and create stress; this fights with your autonomic nervous system. An exhale is technically parasympathetic. If you’re squeezing the upper abdominal muscles, or if you’re doing a yoga pose and you’re squeezing the body inappropriately, although your intention is to try to do a yoga pose, you’re actually creating an internal environment of confusion. The solar plexus, located at the upper abdomen, is a major second processing site; stress is processed a lot in this area.
The upper abdominal area, specifically the upper triangle part of it, is where we process stress. We do not need to over activate that area when it’s not needed. When the upper triangle is over-activated, then health is compromised. If you are over dominant in your upper triangle, you might be more prone to injury because your internal cocktail is always telling you to: be on alert, be on alert. This influences stress hormones, which compromises your immune system and keeps inflammation higher than it should be. Again, if you look at all non-infectious disease, inflammation is behind it, and mismanagement of stress is behind that. Theoretically your yoga practice should be helping you to better manage the stresses that come to you. But if we don’t understand this, then we will just repeat the same patterns in our yoga practice. This needs to be taken into account in our yoga practice on a functional level.
The lower abdomen is the door through which to get inside. Many people have been doing yoga for years and continually following their hands, or following the dive. If you come to yoga and repeatedly dive without an “open heart” but rather a pinch in that area, you are unwittingly, unknowingly, and unwisely adding to your stress. We need to respect the functioning of the nervous system, across both the somatic and the autonomic nervous systems; and this shows up when you sit. We need to learn how to manage the breath from our lower abdomen, how to set up the posture and provide spinal support, thereby giving us the environment for the inhale to flow. That is the link. The exhale informs the asana, and the asana informs, or gives you, the inhale, which should lead to a good injury prevention state.
As a yoga teacher, I want to help people with their inner physiological process so they function better, think clearer, behave nicer, express and share cleanly, and treat people better.
You might be moving and bending, but the mind jumps around. And though everyone knows this shouldn’t happen, and everyone emphasizes mindfulness and awareness, in reality people aren’t that aware of where they are focusing. Even if they hope to be aware of where they direct their attention, they don’t have the capacity to direct it because they haven’t been trained. And in our ADD (attention deficit disorder), online every-minute-of-the-day world, this is even more of a problem. If we jump around in our body like we jump around in our mind then we are adding to the inner confusion, and we are missing the connection to working with the body and management of the breath.
As we will see, all this comes together in the physical management of the body, using the pelvic muscles and the lower abdomen; how the lower abdomen is essentially the force of the exhale and how that can feed the inhale and posture. The mental focus brings attention to this same zone, and now there’s a greater uniting of a combined mental and physical force, with breath, and its effect on autonomic function and metabolic efficiency.
AS YOU THINK, SO YOU PRACTICE …… AND YOUR BODY FOLLOWS
Your practice ideally should support your intentions on a physiological level, as well as an anatomical one. The Hatha (Yoga) Pradipika text says: Asana makes you stable (in body and mind), healthy, and feeling of lightness. This must mean that your inner organs are working well and you’re balancing stimulation versus counter stress. The third point is lightness. This is from asana only. If you feel light it’s not that your weight has changed. The feeling of lightness is that there is an increased metabolic efficiency at a cellular level – your respiratory function, mitochondrial activity, production of energy, clearing of waste all perform more efficiently.
If this is so, then the outcome should be that I embody such strength. I exhibit good health across my viscera (internal organs), which are purely managed/directed by my autonomic nervous system. At a cellular respiratory level, I am efficient and I feel good. This does not come just because you went to a yoga class and pushed through it. This comes because you engaged in the appropriate activity, with directed focus, supportive breath, and the teacher is able to guide that. As a teacher, offering modifications is your job; you have the chance to help people self-correct, to offer them proper focused work, to interrupt the rigidity.
If your understanding of that increases through your doing of it, then eventually maybe even a mental grasp of it will come; so similar to how chaos theory works, numerous principles that are in states of different activity or disarray come together and reveal a more powerful outcome.
This takes a bit of time, but that’s the process; this is what’s been developed. So, if I practice yoga, I want to be strong, feel healthy, feel good, feel an uplifted spirit. And such a state is the perfect environment to use the breath to channel finer elements of body and mind into what we would call the internal side, which is what yoga is about, the meditative experience. So how we manage or support ourselves, either against injury or helping a current injury, impacts of course not just the degree of the injury which is usually either limb or joint based, but if done correctly it should impact my inner health, my psychological wellbeing, and therefore serves directly as meditative practice, management, etc.
Over the last hundred years, modern science has made tremendous progress in reducing infectious disease. The population has exploded and we now deal more with what is known as non-communicable disease, non-infectious disease, which is at its root based in a mismanagement of stress. Inflammation is an identifiable marker here. So, though you may not have a physical limb or joint injury, you probably are entering a yoga class with a degree of poorly managed stress, with resultant inflammation, on a physiological level. Therefore, the support of the body and the placement of posture can either improve that condition or unfortunately and surreptitiously worsen your stress load, or at the very least not help it. This, in turn, leaves you compromised on an immune system level and/or prone to compromise in posture/body on the musculoskeletal level, making you more prone to injury. Following the adage, prevention is better than cure, a yoga teacher, therefore, has a very valuable and much needed role and responsibility to teach with an understanding of injury, pain, and disease. And though it’s just a yoga class, this greater understanding can help manage the body posturally, to impact with the breath one’s physiological and psychological state. At the same time, that can be carelessly handled due to lack of experience, knowledge, poor teaching skills, an over-excited approach, focus on the wrong things, and all of these conditions could be worsened.
My own research builds from the burden of non-communicable disease, with stress at the base of that, to look at the effectiveness of yoga practice, particularly regulation of the breath, in managing that stress, to manage this burden which is behind all lifestyle diseases. Such a burden or stress is a somewhat measurable proxy for the internal disturbed state that is contra to the spiritual development. When we talk about managing injury, in one sense, just for daily wellbeing, we want to manage this on a body-health-stress level. But the other sense is that the state of mind or personal spiritual progress – in other words your attitude and how you understand things and look at them – is a key component in all of this. It’s not enough to just do it; we need to do it, understand it, and absorb into it. Otherwise it can be counterproductive. Just because I’m doing it doesn’t mean it is good.
A scientific approach will measure physiological and biological markers as well as psychological surveys. But yoga places things in context, in people’s lives. What is so vastly important, and is highly emphasized by Patanjali and other great teachers, is your approach, your attitude, your sincerity to practice, which I like to personally sum up as a degree of engaged participation. You can’t just take this like a blue pill and expect a result. You need to participate in the administration and digestion of the so-called ‘medicine’.
1. Take out the Sugar, Add in Cocoa
Diets that promote inflammation tend to be high in refined starches, sugar, dairy, saturated and trans-fats. Choosing foods which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber from vegetables, and many natural antioxidants and polyphenols actively lower inflammation in the body (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16904534). Two new studies recently presented at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting last month, show how cocoa, isolated from sugar, acts as a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, that supports cognitive, endocrine and cardiovascular health in human subjects. Researchers found that the higher the concentration of cocoa (at least 70%), the more positive the impact on cognition, stress levels, inflammation, memory, mood and immunity (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180424133628.htm). So open that dark chocolate, eat a square or two and enjoy, or mix some cocoa in with coconut milk for a delicious warm drink, just remember to keep the sugar out to reap all its health benefits.
2. Switch to a Cold Shower
“The cold makes you go within.” — Wim Hof
In addition to helping our environment, by using less fresh water and energy, cold showers are a great way to increase overall energy levels. They have been shown to increase energy production by stimulating mitochondria activity, which pump out ATP, the body’s energy currency. Cold showers help to reduce inflammation, which means you’ll feel better. They increase power performance by impacting other bodily hormones, and increase your “feel good” dopamine levels (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10751106). Cold showers increase your health by aiding your immune system (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10735978). They also make brown fat cells work more effectively, which reduces white fat; brown fat makes heat and less white fat means a leaner body. (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0808718#t=article) (https://www.jci.org/articles/view/60433?key=5e3684aee3d55b74adc8). Just doing it helps to build mental power and sensory stamina. You will feel more alert and energized afterwards. Why not give it a try? Why not try it every day for 30 days?
We’ve started here at Samahita and would like to invite you to the challenge at home:
- The Easy Way – Start with a warm shower and shift into cold. Each time under the water, try increasing your time under cold water.
- The Enthusiastic Way – Straight in and stay cold. Even for just a few seconds. Feels much better after!
3. Breathing Technique: Śītalī
Managed breathing, with awareness, allows us to tap into our parasympathetic system, reducing strain and stress, which can be tied to the inflammatory response. Śītalī is one such breathing practice which has been thoroughly practiced and passed down by yoga practitioners, and is one of the eight varieties of pranayama described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (II. 56/57). Its name is even derived from the feminine form of a Sanskrit term meaning “cool”.
Typically, when air is inhaled through the nose, the external air is warmed up before it enters the lungs. When air is instead brought in through the mouth, it has an immediate cooling quality on our system.
We teach this breathing technique during our morning classes at Samahita Retreat. It’s a simple and effective practice to try each morning or evening, and only takes a few moments each day:
Begin with a supported seated position. Take a few breaths to connect with your posture, and root your sit bones down. Making sure not to over arch your lower back, on an exhale draw your lower abdomen in towards the sacrum for rooted support. At the end of your exhale, draw up from your pelvic floor, inhaling into your upper abdomen, side of the ribs and chest. Keeping the lift and send of expansion in your chest, pause, then begin your exhale. Let the air to draw out smoothly, naturally, and completing the exhalation and connecting once again with your lower abdomen. When this awareness is set, start to take a few breaths expanding your exhale to be double the count of your inhale. Then, try 10 rounds of Śītalī or Sītkārī. When finished, sit for a few moments and connect with the space you create, let any effort ease.
Roll up the tongue, so that the side edges touch together, both inside and outside the mouth, extending about one centimeter outside the lips. On the inhale, sip air in through the tubelike formation gently and smoothly, similar to using a straw. When inhalation is complete, the tongue is withdrawn and the lips are closed. Then slowly, exhale through both nostrils, for double the count. This timing should feel comfortable, not rushed or strained, otherwise reduce your inhalation.
If rolling the tongue is difficult, you can use the technique of Sītkārī to achieve a similar effect. In Sītkārī arrange your jaw so that your teeth touch together. Then inhale, bring the air through the teeth, over the tongue, which may make a slight breeze sound. When inhalation is complete, close the lips, relax the jaw, then slowly exhale through both nostrils, for double the count.
Paul was interviewed for Yoga Journal China about injuries and yoga practice. As he explains, it is not as straight forward as addressing a body-tissue injury. That is merely one factor. You need to look at injuries brought from outside class and unfortunate injuries occurring in a pose, but also how you approach practice, where your focus is, how the breath fits in with injury prevention, the vital place of the lower abdomen in managing the body and thus any possibility of avoiding injury, and intelligent ways to modify that help you heal and grow instead of worsening the issue or staying stuck. This interview transcript is from the spoken word, so slightly different than when written, and is brought to you in three parts.
PART ONE: Common injuries, posture management, appropriate pelvic force
WHAT IF I’M ALREADY INJURED, AND I NEED TO MODIFY; HOW DO I MODIFY?
If you’re already injured do you avoid or keep something up? More current scientific wisdom definitely recommends movement; therefore, to address an injury, you need good postural management and knowledge about how to move in a limited way close to or around the site of injury.
Let’s look at a good example of a common injury either due to, or showing up in, a yoga practice – hamstring pulls. This is because people think yoga is more about flexibility and stretching when such an approach can lead to pulls of the ligament on the attachment site and the typical common one is on the ischial tuberosity (sit bone). If you avoid moving and avoid stretching, you’ll just find that 3 months later, though you don’t feel the pain, the injury hasn’t healed; and when you later return to your yoga practice, you’ll feel the collected scar tissue and the strain, and you can easily reinjure yourself.
So instead to support appropriately, you need to learn how to move around it; in this case with the knees bent; you start by supporting posture through engagement of the lower abdomen and pelvic floor which influences the other muscles in the pelvis. You switch on particular leg muscles, including engaging your quadriceps and your inner legs (the adductors); this gives you a whole suite of muscles that are working and acting in a supportive way around the injury site; this allows the belly of the muscle to gets its length and support without pulling at the same injury spot. In a few weeks, you will find that you have strengthened the attachment site by accompanying muscles that attach around the same site or close to it. And, therefore, you manage the injury by managing the posture through supportive activity around it, carried through within movement.
Another example is that people will come to a yoga class with a degree of back pain, which can be indicative of different physical injuries and even emotional injuries in life. I have met people who say to me, “Paul, when I go to a yoga class, it just makes my back pain worse.” I find this so unfortunate to hear yet I understand that it reflects an unfortunate reality that takes place in some yoga classes – where the teacher has not been able to successfully guide the students to identify and use centered, focused, grounded support to manage the back, so instead it leads to worsening the back pain rather than helping it.
As a teacher, offering modifications is your job; you have the chance to help people self-correct, to offer them proper focused work, to interrupt the rigidity.
WHAT IF I COME INTO CLASS WITH A PRE-EXISTING CONDITION, LIKE BACK PAIN OR KNEE PAIN, AND THAT CONDITION IS WORSENED IN CLASS?
In order to manage the spine and support the back, you need to go through the doorway of the lower abdomen to the deeper spinal muscles which work with the other upright spinal muscles. As you can see in this photo of the warrior position, there is a small degree of rotation in the spine which helps to trigger some of the deeper supportive muscles that attach firmly to the spine at diagonals, innervated by individual spinal nerves, such as multifidus and rotators. By first taking such a constructive, supportive approach as your base, you then let the movement and activity follow that, where the outcome should be improvement through this support to reduce the condition. But often a yoga teacher will either fail to pay attention to this, or the teacher might lack the understanding, so that it can unfortunately worsen the condition, and the person leaves with aggravated back pain instead of getting support to overcome it.
You can think about this as good engineering or good architecture. You need to take care of establishing a good foundation: columns and cross beams. In a similar way, the legs feed into the pelvic body, and they attach to the spine through the psoas. Your doorway to activate in that is through engagement of the lower abdomen and pelvic floor in appropriate tones. And in so doing, you provide a developed, structured support. Just like being in a well-built building, you now have an environment in which you can bend or move without falling into a compromised position or a mishap. This gives you an intelligently constructed solution that provides a strength-based environment to guard against worsening the condition and limit the possibility of other injuries, rather than one based in fear around the nature of the injury. This distinction is important; when something is fear-based (which is very common) there is never a solution in that.
WHEN YOU REFER TO “APPROPRIATE TONES”, WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
A very common misunderstanding in yoga is that engagement refers to just one type of forceful engagement. The result is that the engagement can be too high, too strong. A good example is if you overdo the pelvic floor squeeze: the fact that you’re even squeezing is wrong; the appropriate tone would be holding. You can think about this just as one holds a bottle with their hand, they don’t squeeze the bottle. It would be unnecessary. It would be a waste of energy. It would be an inappropriate tone. Unfortunately, however, through yoga when there is a blind command of “mula bandha”, the result can be that people squeeze the pelvic floor, and maybe even squeeze too much, and in that case it’s actually the anal sphincter that is being squeezed. This actually results in an increased heat, which can actually bring you bad hemorrhoids, affect constipation, even affect ladies’ menstrual activity.
Then the other side of that is you don’t’ engage it at all, and this important powerful muscle at the base of the body is under-toned, which puts more pressure on the internal organs and the whole network of lumbar sacral nerves, which is commonly found with poor bladder management and incontinence. The appropriate tone is the engagement that fits the degree of force/counterforce, in that situation, at that moment. For example, when you’re sitting upright, an appropriate tone of pelvic floor/lower abdomen might be 2-3 out of 10. When you’re in an asana like paschimottanasana, then the appropriate tone might be a 5-6. When you’re balancing on your arms in an arm balance pose where you have to hold your weight in the rest of the body, then the appropriate tone might be up at 8. Now it’s inversely related to the amount of time spent in it. So the 8 in a balance is held for a short period of time, 20 seconds maybe. The level 5 in a paschimottanasana, is held for medium time which can vary between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. The level 2-3 in the sitting posture can be held for minutes to hours. And in a sense, this is used in your sitting, standing daily activity where you might move between a level 2-3 to 5.
Part Two coming soon…
Integrating Somatics in Yoga
Somatic Movement is nothing new. It is, however often bypassed amidst the frenzy of what is “trending” in yoga or fitness to push you to your limits and increase your caloric expenditure. How sad.
Somatics do just the opposite. The process of somatic education turns you internally, rather than focusing on external form. Ultimately, we produce more efficient movement, meaning that we actually use less energy. Working intelligently with movement by tuning into the somatic nervous system forces you to move slowly while you learn movement to create healthy neuromuscular patterning.
I’ve always taught students to enjoy their movement, to “feel” it rather then just “do” it. When we can feel it, we can fix it if we need to, and at the very least enjoy the process of moving inside this human vehicle, rather than forcing ourselves into performance to meet some kind of shape standard.
Somatic movement is all about perception. Moving from within. Specifically, initiating movement in a way that emphasizes internal perception and experience, thus truly connecting our mind with movement. No rushing here. Developed as a field of research and systematized as a movement education by Dr Thomas Hanna, somatics are used as therapy to re-educate the nervous system.
The system uses slow, deliberate paths of movement and release sequences through verbal cueing, in a way that the movement is felt from the deep level of initiation, rather then the more external pulls that tend to drive large or fast movements. The result is incredible stability, alignment and fluid movement. It also serves as a therapy to correct imbalances in posture, movement and breath. Thus, it is a very informative tool for yoga teachers and students.
As a yoga teacher, experiencing somatics has a massive impact on your ability to cue movement correctly, and serves to assist you with private or therapeutic clients.
When looking at movement as a whole – incorporating strength, co-ordination, mobility and balance – somatics work to impact the efficacy of all 4 pillars. It trains (and in some cases un-trains and retrains) the neuromuscular pathways for movement. At least that’s what has been taught up to this point. I prefer to look at movement on a more global scale, which means we cannot disregard fascia and especially its role as a sensory organ and force transmitter. So we can use somatic education as well as work with the fascia in movement to create the ultimate mind-body connection and fluid body.
I am really excited to share this new way of thinking about and sensing movement in the upcoming Advanced Anatomy: Somatic Movement & Fascial Integration as we explore not only somatic movement, but somatic movement from the perspective of the fascia – all intertwined with the breath for incorporation into your yoga practice.
Every Centered Yoga retreat or training involves set times for Q&A periods with Paul Dallaghan. During this past year’s 2017/18 Christmas and New Year Retreat he was asked about why such a focus on nose breathing is emphasized. Here are the highlights of Paul’s response:
Six reasons (with huge pay-offs) to breathe through your nose
In yoga classes we are encouraged to keep our mouths closed, breathing only through the nose. Yet this is highly advised off the mat as well, and for several good reasons. The evolution of our systems to partially separate the passage of food and air is sophisticated and well studied. It distinguishes us from other primates in clear anatomical ways, and yet, Paul explained, it invites the tendency for people to lose track of the best, most efficient way to breathe – through the nose. Let’s explore that further, listing Paul’s point here:
1. The nose serves to filter the air that we breathe. Lined with millions of tiny cilia and mucous membranes, it is designed to catch bacteria, dirt and debris that would otherwise travel into the lungs.
2. Air temperature and humidity is also regulated by the nose. If you breathe in excessively cold and dry air, you can actually shock your system. “The internal shape of the nose is designed to make the air swirl—that moistens it and regulates the temperature.”
3. Breathing through the mouth is inherently shallow, almost sharp and thus has more of an aggressive effect on the nervous system. Nasal breathing triggers greater use of your diaphragm and thus invites a deeper breath and more oxygen into the system.
4. Even more amazing, and rarely considered, is that air drawn in the nose also passes through deep and wide chambers (sinuses) across the face and into the skull—two of which straddle the pituitary gland. This is quite possibly the closest you can get to “massaging” your pituitary, a major gland involved in the release of so many of the body’s functioning hormones affecting stress management, reproduction, and much more. These sinuses are highly charged membranous environments. Mouth breathing completely bypasses such an involvement and will leave you feeling heavier, less clear, more sluggish. The nose breather is calmer and more centered.
5. Cellular respiration, the metabolic process by which your cells produce energy using the oxygen you just breathed in, is directly impacted by the quality of your breath and to some degree by the quantity (oxygen volume) you have been able to breathe in. Therefore your breath is intimately linked to energy production and how you spend that energy. The cells of your heart, eyes and prefrontal cortex area of your brain have the highest level of mitochondria—as Paul termed “little batteries”, though in reality literally ancient bacteria that basically power the human body. Each of these little batteries is pumping out units of energy, or ATP. A single cortical neuron (brain nerve cell) utilizes an unbelievable approximate 4.7 billion ATPs per second in a resting human brain. In other words, you have some expensive machinery to run and so need to fuel it optimally. To breathe poorly (literally), which is through your mouth, is not only an energy loss but poorer performance for your brain, leading to an unfocused and less effective mind, and worse, because your mental energy is dispersed and diluted it leads to continued poorer breathing. “Mouth breathing is an expensive practice.”
6. In the Ayurvedic sense, shallow and inefficient mouth breathing causes your vata dosha to go off. You become prone to headaches, and your immune system becomes compromised, which opens you to a greater possibility of illness.
Summing it all up, Paul said:
“So mouth breathing is a lot shorter, sharper, and relies on the diaphragm less. It’s not filtering, not changing the temperature, not affecting the humidity. It’s compromising my immune system and switching on my sympathetic. It’s more energy wasting.
“You lose more heat, about 20 percent more, when you are breathing out of your mouth. When you are doing certain intense exercises if you are panting in and out of your mouth, it becomes very inefficient.
“You will find yourself calmer throughout the day having trained the breath to flow through the nose, but also as a practitioner your nasal breath amplifies the effects of your practice, both in pranayama and asana.”
1. 2012, Quantitative imaging of energy expenditure in human brain, Zhu et al.
If you have ever asked why do yoga and fitness? Isn’t my yoga my fitness anyway? What kind of workout goes well with yoga? How to do yoga to fit a workout? Or still don’t know why a longterm yoga practitioner would also embrace other workouts, then please read all, or part, of the following to get an understanding as to the genesis of YogaCoreCycle and how the bigger picture of yoga requires such activity, within moderation. I have gone deep into yoga practice and scientific research, understanding the subtle side of practice and our evolutionary history and how the body works, discussed it with experienced yogis and scientists, all convinced this is a positive step forward for people doing yoga-asana and those involved in fitness.
Nurture the spirit – take care of the body
I have been a dedicated yogi for many years. I recognize life and all its elements, needs of the body and mind. Yoga practice has been most helpful for this. I also appreciate music, food, knowledge, relationships, intimacy, conversation, entertainment and recreation, all the threads in the fabric of life. I avoid that which causes me or others harm, in body and mind, and embrace whatever makes complete sense. The practice of yoga is vital for life, nurturing of the spirit, but we cannot expect it to give all that the body needs. Yoga in a larger sense understands this and advises a combination of activities and guidance in how to perform them. In its original form, yoga-asana separated the workout from the asana. YogaCoreCycle embraces the various needs of the human body by offering a multi-modal program that separates out yoga-asana from cardio and functional fitness workouts, while offering them across a daily program.
Incomplete body-breath-mind development in modern yoga
I have taught yoga practice and the breath to more than 20,000 people over 20 years in many countries around the world. Over time I found many got stuck in a repetitive pattern of how to do asana, limiting the body’s development, were not connected to their core at all though often thinking they were, had not properly refined the breath, and would not really put in the time to sit, breathe, contemplate, look within, self-examine, considering the asana practice as yoga. Without the latter yoga practice is ineffective. Assuming yoga practice complete due to a long asana practice has led some to limit their growth in a yogic and meditative way, while also not fully taking care of the body.
Yoga is more than the physical practice
Yoga is an ancient and refined practice whose physical aspects have become an integral part of the thoroughly modern boutique fitness craze. The physical part of yoga is designed to refine and condition the body’s form and physiology. Those interested choose to live and practice it in different ways. In reality, more people relate to yoga as a physical form rather than its intended purpose as a fully integrated life system that, through internal processes, creates an understanding of who we really are. Body posture, termed as asana, is included within yoga practice and it has been developed as an extremely effective physiological and anatomical management form under Hatha yoga. It is only part of an overall process and, if to be effective within the greater purpose, needs to be done so breath and heartrate are managed. This produces a different body chemistry and physiological profile, in support of a meditative internal growth.
Yoga-asana is not a replacement for exercise
The human body needs different forms of care and stimulation, as our evolution has shown. Yoga and fitness experts have consistently found that asana is not a replacement for exercise. When yoga is undertaken solely for fitness purposes, much of its meaning and effect is lost. It is limited. Yoga does not provide the cardiovascular benefits of a full workout program, such as indoor cycling, and a repetitive asana practice can cause practitioners to lose touch with messages their bodies communicate. Though a physical asana practice, coupled with breathing, can do wonders for the body it is still not designed to push the heart and breath in a workout.
Both yoga-asana and exercise are needed for a healthy body
Changing the way the body moves, as in switching between a yoga-asana, a core, and a cycle class, helps to identify postural concerns, weak muscles, and other issues that may be preventing practitioners from fully performing the yoga poses or finding balance in their bodies. A fitness workout stimulates the nervous system one way that is beneficial, if not overdone, yet different to how yoga-asana affects the nerves and equally the body chemistry.
Exercise is one thing that is essential in people’s lives, yoga practice is another. In addition to that are the yogic practices of pranayama-breath and sitting-meditation. All together these cover the whole person – the body and the mind, the gross and the subtle, the worldly and the spiritual. Great health and wellbeing arises from addressing all needs of an individual.
Yoga-asana and exercise optimize how the body functions
As yoga-asana with breathing stimulates more the parasympathetic nervous system and massages a different hormonal and neurotransmitter profile into the blood stream, benefitting a clearer, calmer state for most of the day, exercise, whether more cardio or resistance-based strength work, is needed to engage the sympathetic in a healthy way, counter to stress-based sympathetic responses, and trigger a different chemical cocktail for a period of time through the body. This ebb and flow, yin and yang, alternated stimulation, optimizes how the body functions. Interestingly this aids the meditative process more due to its greater balancing effects and more robust neuro-physiological operation.
Manage body chemistry between core, cardio, and asana
Functional fitness integrates perfectly as part of any level of a yoga practitioner’s regular routine. It is especially important to build the Core, as that is the system of muscles that supports the entire body. Connecting with the physical Core builds endurance and efficiency, reducing the possibility of injuries. The movement part of an asana practice is ideal to incorporate Core work. The aim is to recruit as many muscles of the body as possible at one time to help strengthen, optimize fat burning, and develop real core support. Such full body strength work can then switch to a restorative phase, that asana can provide, so the chemicals released into the body to build strength and burn fat can now be removed from circulation and the body can have a repair and restore impact, opening body tissue, impacting lymph drainage, nurturing the nervous system, and improving the circulatory system.
Human evolution demands support of our core
The human body has evolved to its current bipedal form, with a unique big toe alignment, based purely on the fact that we Homo sapiens started to actively use our legs and walk everywhere, literally over this entire earth. The human S-shaped spinal column is a direct result of that development and, in consequence, the large muscles the legs use and the nerves off the lower part of the spine to the pelvis and legs. Though strength exists in the upper body too we are pathetically weak there compared to fellow primates but champion them with our legs. Our arms to hands to fingers instead have developed incredible technologies, from basic tools to today’s modern technology. However, this upright stance has led to challenges on the vertebral column support with many of the population suffering from back issues and internal organ ailments. Core support from the lower abdomen is essential for this support and health. A proper yoga asana practice identifies this but many reduce to flexibility exercises. Further core work is essential. Some activity at least a few days a week is needed for lymph stimulation as well as circulation and elimination stimulation.
Recent human history involved a mixture of work and activity
Until very recently, literally within the last decade, without the convenience of modern technology, we moved more and had to more manual activities. In older days a yoga practitioner would also have to walk for miles a day (BKS Iyengar would love to tell the story of how he had to walk 10 miles a day just to teach, on top of his asana practice – now that’s a “workout”), or climb hills if living in mountainous regions of India, or work in the fields given the majority of the population were agrarian.
Still a few questions?
Does yoga need cardio?
Does yoga need more core work?
Is Yoga a workout or not?
What about yoga tradition?
So, is yoga practice still evolving?