In yoga class we sometimes push ourselves and confront the edge of our limitations both physically and mentally. The reason we do this is to learn how to better handle moments that push us “on and off the mat.” We learn to use tools like our breath, redirecting our focus and and remembering that with time what feels intense now can be withstood and will eventually abate. It’s easy to see how this applies while in asana practice or pranayama. But sometimes it’s not always so easy to immediately see the practical applications of our yoga practices in other challenging situations. The possibilities of application can be more readily seen if we understand the physiology that goes on when use our bodies to create space within and without. Read More
We love when yoga teachers spread the good word about a breathing practice that can help all of us alleviate a little stress. That’s why it’s so important that the information we disseminate to hungry ears is accurate and, therefore, safer. We found this yoga teacher’s advice online and although we like the message, there are a few pointers that need to be ironed out so that the overriding message can be used to its full benefit. We’ll extract the points that are to be discussed specifically and list them in quotes and bolded text. But please go to her article to get the full story. Here’s the advice on Ujjayi: Read More
We come across many individuals who do not realize the depth of inter-connectivity between organ systems. They assume that an ailment that affects one system does not affect another. At some point, most of us have experienced some type of digestive problem. Have you ever thought about how the digestive system might be affected by breathing? Can the quality of your breathe determine the quality of your digestion? What is the relationship? One obvious connection is that we need to breathe well to oxygenate the body’s organs properly for optimal health. Isn’t there also a connection as far as movement is concerned? This post will focus specifically on the relationship between the lungs and the digestive organ ( stomach, intestines, liver and pancreas) through the lens of movement.
Optimally, during inhalation, the central tendon of the diaphragm moves downward and the lungs expand. Hopefully, we see the ribs move and the expansion of the lungs and central tendon of the diapragm pushes down and the internal organs are shifted. The belly may even protrude (especially if one is in a position where the transversus abdominus is not contracted). On the exhalation the lungs collapse, the central tendon rises, the ribs fall back into place as do the organs that had shifted in response. I love how Kim describes these organs as “dancing” with every breath. Such a helpful visual! This “dance” helps to further facilitate natural processes like digestion of food by enzymes, peristalsis (the snakelike movement that moves the contents of the gut along), absorption of nutrients into the small intestine, absorption of fluids in the large intestine and elimination of waste.
In fact, this movement of lungs and organs may be the reason that certain yoga poses like forward bends have been prescribed to assist with digestion and elimination. The enteric nervous system, which is one of the three branches of our autonomic nervous system, lines the walls of the digestive system from the esophagus to the anus. When the receptors of this system are stimulated by touch, they cause paristaltic contractions of the gut. Poses, like seated forward bends that can gently compress the digestive organs combined with steady and calm breathing may in fact stimulate the enteric nerves in a positive way. But if one is uncomfortable during such a posture and finds the compression stifling, alarming, or inhibiting to the breath the result can be a negative stimulation that can further impact digestive issues. This is a wonderful example of how the ability to relax, particularly through a breath practice, can allow digestion to be guided by the enteric and parasympathetic nervous systems. The parasympathetic branch is another branch of the autonomic nervous system and is known as the “rest and digest” portion and is associated with being in a more relaxed state as opposed to the sympathetic branch, which is known as the “fight or flight” branch. Existing in this relaxed state is what allows for optimal digestion.
If you are not experiencing all the lovely movement mentioned above there could be several reasons why the organs are not receptive to the expansion of the lungs and push of the central tendon. Tension held in the abdominal muscles, diaphragm and even the intestines themselves will interrupt the receptivity. The entire process is affected and ultimately can negatively impact one’s ability to eliminate.
Conversely, from the bottom up: If you overeat and bloat your belly you won’t leave much room for your diaphragm to function, therefore decreasing the amount of space and movement your lungs have to allow for air. Ever notice that your breathing may be a bit shallow after a large meal? That’s why it’s important to learn the difference between being satisfied and being overly full when eating.
So how do you work on this? A breathing practice and exercise can help. That’s why yoga can be such an effective tool for helping you get in touch with your body and how you breathe. So next time you approach your practice try focusing on pranayama.
Ujjayi breath (for a definition look here) is pervasive throughout most yoga practices. It is often taught as a way to become aware of and control the breath. This is a great practice. We’re all about sharpening an individual’s awareness of the body. But, too many times, do we see clients come in who believe that breathing this wayALLTHE TIME is how to manage stress and relax. Ujjayi does not work that way.
This breathing practice is an audible one. That means, to successfully do it, you have to have a “whispered” breath you can hear. In order to do so, one must be able to control and contract the opening of the glottis in the throat. Neat! That’s cool, but this level of measured control does not necessarily inform the brain and body that it’s time to relax. Sometimes relaxing means being comfortable within yourself while letting go of control. For example, try applying Ujjayi breathing to your Savasana and then try being in Savasana and letting the breath come and go without trying to control it. This can be a much harder practice; thus is the challenge in letting go!
Ujjayi can be excellent for tracking your breathing during a challenging practice, or for making the body more of a solid structure, which can be useful in certain situations. For a demonstration of Ujjayi’s effect check out breathing master and one of our beloved teacher’s Leslie Kaminoff and this video.
Especially after viewing that demonstration, one can see that breathing this way does not connote relaxation. But it can help you gain control of yourself, thoughts and emotions by getting in touch with your breath. Keep in mind this is an active manipulation of a physical process that is mostly performed unconsciously. Use this ACTIVity to then take you to a place where letting go and just “being” is easier. If you find it too difficult too let go of Ujjayi and just BE with your breath than find a teacher to help you release the habit. It could actually be responsible for keeping you from truly being able to relax and release.
To follow up on last week’s post about allergies and the wonderful neti pot, we figured it’d be good to follow up with something similar. Below is a tip sheet we’ve put together for breathing better. Hey everyone has to breathe…right?! How are you breathing right now? Bet you could be doing it better! For those of us with breathing disorders, like asthma, or just dealing with everyday stress, you’ll want to keep this in mind. In fact, print it out and carry it with you. Some of these exercises you can do just about anywhere! Enjoy. Read More