Those who come to class will know where I put the breath retentions and bandhas. If you are not in Altea, and can’t come to class, just follow the sequence as it is presented.
How We Breathe: Moving things around
We usually just think of the breath as being Oxygen in and CO2 out…if we think about the breath at all. Yoga practitioners may think about prâna. But few of us take the time to contemplate all the other things that move around because of the breath.
Most of us know a little about the blood. We have all had a cut at one time of another, and we have all seen a butcher’s shop in our lives.
Most of us, however, know very little about the lymph, the interstitial fluid or the cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF).
While the blood is moved around the body by the heart, the other fluids don’t have such luck. The lymph is primarily moved by muscle flexion and breathing. The cerebro-spinal fluid is mainly moved by the breath and pressure differences due to blood flow and heartbeat. Interstitial fluid is drained by the lymphatic system which, as already mentioned, is moved by the breath. Are you beginning to see a pattern?
Lymphatic flow and the breath
The lymphatic system is an amazing semi-closed network of vessels and nodes that runs throughout the entire body. Its anatomy is not yet fully understood.
Lymph is a somewhat thick liquid that carries junk from the cells back to the central circulation so that your body can dispose of it. Lymph is not made by the body in the same way that blood or bone is made. Lymph is a by-product of normal metabolism. There are times when you make more lymph – ie: a healing wound that is inflamed will produce more waste, which then becomes lymph. There is a baseline lymph level called the lymph obligatory load. When you have more lymph being produced, the lymph obligatory load increases. Are you with me so far?
Lymph is created when the junk and water that is hanging around the cells in the interstitium gets swept up into the lymph pre-collector channels. Once there, it is called lymph although, really, it hasn’t changed. It’s just that, now, it’s in the lymphatic system and gets called lymph. For the sake of simplicity, we shall lump lymph and interstitial fluid together. So far, so good.
The lymph vessels get bigger and bigger as they get closer to the centre of the body. At some stage, they become able to make little pulsations which push the lymph onwards. Backflow is impeded by valves that are similar to the valves in the veins. These are called “bicuspid valves” and are one-way. Side note: varicose veins are caused, often, by malfunction of the biscuspid valves.
Still, the best way to pump lymph from out to in (distal to medial) is by moving muscles and by breathing. The movement of the diaphragm down and up creates a relative vacuum with each breath. This pressure difference acts like a piston-like pump, and sucks the lymph into the central lymph ducts. To return to general circulation, the lymph accumulates in the “Cisterna Chyli” before moving into the thoracic duct. The Thoracic duct is the biggest lymph vessel in the body. It crosses the diaphragm at the lowest and back-most of the holes in the diaphragm. It empties the lymph into the subclavian vein, just below the collarbone. Once there, the liquid is no longer lymph. It is now part of the blood.
So…lymph is created in the cells by normal metabolism. It needs to get “home”. It moves because of the breath. If we breathe badly, lymph flow is slow and we may develop edema, which is swollen tissue, full of water. So, breathe well and love your lymph. On we go…
CSF Flow and the breath
“Breathing acts as a pump to propel CSF up the spine and around the brain.”
“With each breath the diaphragm descends and the rib cage expands, leading to a drop in pressure in the chest cavity. This drop in pressure draws blood from the brain in veins that empty into the heart. The skull is a rigid and confined space. As blood returns to the heart, CSF is drawn up the spinal column to replace the lost volume.”
This is very similar to the way the breath affects the lymph. Now, take a moment to contemplate this: the Central Nervous System (CNS) is the brain and spinal column, put as simply as possible. Most of you have heard about discs (ie: “slipped disc” or “herniated disc”) and the meninges (ie: “meningitis). Well, the discs are like hard little sponges between the spine bones and the meninges are like cling-film coatings around the brain and spinal column. The meninges carry the Cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF).
Discs don’t have blood supply. (“During development and at birth, vertebral discs have some vascular supply to the cartilage endplates and the anulus fibrosus. These quickly deteriorate leaving almost no direct blood supply in healthy adults.“) It seems that there is some blood supply to the edges of the discs via capillaries, the smallest of the blood vessels, and that nutrients are diffused into the centre of the discs, but very slowly. So, to nourish the intervertebral discs is quite a challenge.
Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is produced in the choroid plexus of the brain and then moves along slowly with each hearbeat, circulating through the ventricles of the brain and then throughout the subarachnoid space of the spinal cord and brain. Bathing and nourishing the nervous system, CSF also cushions the brain and spinal cord.
They are, instead, nourished by the CSF in the meninges. We write “meninges” with an “s” because it’s plural: there are three. One is just around the brain, but two of them go all the way down the spine to the lower back. And yes, they nourish and protect the bones, discs and nerves of the spinal column because they transport CSF. So, it’s a nice thing to have that CSF moving, isn’t it?
If you are well hydrated, you should be able to influence the movement of CSF via breathing and movement. Logically, when one is lying down, the CSF pressure is about the same all the way along the spinal column. This is also the case for lymphatic flow: it is greatly improved by simply lying down. I am often asked to contrast yoga with Tai Chi or Qi Gong. While no expert on either practice, and with a healthy respect for both, I always give the same answer: I like yoga because of the floor work, specifically that part where you lie down and breathe deeply.
Viniyoga, the breath, and moving fluids
Yoga is a practice that is based upon linking the breath with movement. In Viniyoga, we usually open the body on the Inhale and close on the Exhale. We use some breath retentions (krama) for added effect. We teach breathing in postures and in isolation (pranayama). In addition to promoting flexibility in joints and muscles, yoga lengthens and deepens the breath. Over time, the resting breathing pattern of the practitioner changes permanently. Because Viniyoga focuses so much on the breath, it is a deeply healing form of hatha yoga. It is also accessible to all. A person may not be able to dominate a complex flow sequence, but they can probably work comfortably with Viniyoga’s more gentle but just as effective sequences.
Breathing is more than just gas exchange. Breathing is a motor, a pump, and it moves fluids around the body. Specifically, lymphatic fluid, interstitial fluid and cerebro-spinal fluid are moved by the pressure gradients created by deep diaphragmatic breathing. Yoga is a practice that teaches people how to breathe, and through the correct use of postures and sequences, we can positively influence the practitioner’s health.
“Why Yoga Works” http://www.healtouch.com/csft/yoga.html
Spring Fair: May 5, 2018 – Save the Date!
The Alfaz Spiritual Foundation is hosting it’s Spring Fair this coming Saturday and you’re all invited!
My dear friends Tania Plahay and James Heather very kindly asked me if I wanted to share their table and I accepted. Later, it transpired that some help was needed on the sound technician front, and I was only to happy to step in. I do love some well-balanced sound, and happen to own two PA’s. So, I will be around all day to meet you, talk about yoga and optimism and all things beautiful.
At 14:30, I will sing you some lovely and soothing mantras, accompanied by my faithful red guitar.
I sure hope to see you there!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
In the natural health world, we eschew medication as much as we can for many reasons. In fact, here are many people who take upwards of five pharmaceuticals per day.
Between 1988 and 2010 the median number of prescription medications used among adults aged 65 and older doubled from 2 to 4, and the proportion taking ≥5 medications tripled from 12.8% (95% confidence interval: 11.1, 14.8) to 39.0% (35.8, 42.3).
Here is yet another reason why this can only end in tears:
Diet, rest, gentle exercise, loving kinships, contact with nature and creative realisation go a long way to palliating the worst ravages of simply being human and existing in this crazy world. I don’t advocate for a complete avoidance of pharmaceuticals – I am a huge fan of good medical science. What I do advocate for, however, is a reduction in our dependence on such things. This will only come about when each individual adult realises that they hold the keys to their own health and must practice preventative medicine.
Some years ago, I made an independent study of the typical age of onset of various chronic diseases (atherosclerosis, Type-II diabetes, high blood pressure etc). It is much earlier than you think…you’re probably thinking 55? 60? Think again. In men, about 38-45 and in women about 45-55.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Yoga is a complete system that offers advice on diet, exercise, rest, healthy human relationship, our place in the big scheme of things – the natural world – and how to realise your inner visions (creativity). I can teach you some or most of that, depending on how long you stick with me, how often you turn up to class and whether you decide to have private as well as group classes.
It is a long journey, and I am not an easy yoga teacher. I will needle you, I will make you think. But, I will teach you all that I know, and I never stop learning myself, so my teaching will always evolve. Of that, you can be certain. But, without makng any claim such as yoga can prevent cancer – because one cannot make such claims, ok? – I can guarantee that if you do get diagnosed with cancer, having a steady and established yoga practice will help you through it. And this, a mean yoga teacher is nicer than a mean course of chemotherapy! And one more thing, yoga has been proven to help prevent both cardiovascular disease and diabetes. So there.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Over and out, dear souls. Today is a bright and lovely day. You’re alive. Be joyful, be joy.
Series: How we breathe – Introduction
Yoga can teach us many things, but perhaps the most important one is how to breathe. Since I know a lot about breathing, I have decided to begin writing a little series entitled “How we breathe”. I know that, with great frequency, bloggers start of with big plans to write a series, but things tail off after two or three entries. Rest assured that here with Miss Rachel, this will not happen. I am far, far too stubborn to do such a thing. Ha!
Reflect, for a moment, if you will on this: There is little else, other than the breath, that accompanies you, absolutely surely accompanies you, from the first moment you are born until the last moment you live.
You can lose a kidney, a spleen. A heart can be transplanted. A brain can be induced into a coma. But the breath is there, coming and going, rising and falling.
Breathing and Anxiety
Anxiety is crippling us these days and the breath may hold one of the keys to overcoming it. The defining quality of a panic attack is the feeling that one cannot breathe. I have had two panic attacks in my life, now thankfully, many years ago. But I recall the constricted feeling all too well. I doubt that it could happen to me now. Why? Because I know “how to breathe”. To touch ever so lightly on the matter, and more will follow, paradoxical breathing is the main problem here.
How does one breathe?
Breathing is one of those things that we thing we all just know. But how many of you can name the accessory muscles of breathing? Or say whether the internal or external intercostal muscles aid the inhale or the exhale? Gotcha? So, can you say you know how to breathe if you don’t know the mechanics of breathing?
Biochemistry of Breathing.
And how many of you know about the interchange of gases (CO2 and O2) across the alveolar wall? Or the difference between breathing and respiration? Or what the heck happens to all that oxygen, anyway? There are so many facets to breathing and there is so much to learn.
Yoga has some amazing techniques to deepen and broaden the breath. I have tried many systems of yoga and practised for ages. I will stand here and say that Viniyoga, the style I teach, is the one that taught me to breathe. I can teach you what my teachers taught me.
Best of all, breathing properly is free! Yes, people, you may have to invest in yoga lessons in order to learn, but once you’ve learnt, ain’t no one going to take it away from you…you are your master, baby!
So, this will be the first post in a series dedicated to the mechanics, biochemistry and yogic technique of breathing. Like and subscribe, people. And hey, if you have a coherent answer to any of the questions above, comment below.
Yoga practice – "Towards Inversion"
I am feeling generous tonight, and shall give away a lovely yoga practice that I designed last year and have taught a number of times to my dear students.
Notice that “B” or “R” means breath or respiración.
When it says “6x”, it means do the vinyasa six times.
When it says “6B”, it means hold the pose for six breaths.
Respect any contraindications and check with your primary care provider should you have any doubts about the suitably of this practice for you, at this given time.
LUX (Nicolas Jaar Remix)
Here is a delightful, trippy, chilled-out track, just right for your yoga practice. Breathe deeply, be still on the inside but move on the outside. Practice and all is coming. The guru is within you. Your path is just as personal and unique as you are.
Yoga makes me feel…old. What's up with that?
The lady who asked the question I blogged about last week, “Yoga is meant to calm me, so why do I feel so nervous?” asked another great question yesterday. Gosh, I love students who give honest reflections and ask questions! Thanks, honey bunch.
After class I noticed that her face wasn’t 100% bliss. Quite the opposite. So, unlike a YouTube video would, I sat next to her and asked her what’s up. She said:
“I couldn’t do some of the simplest poses. It made me feel old.”
Ouch. And yes, yoga does that. You see, if you give someone a workout routine like Crossfit or marathon training, it is very normal that they will find, at first, themselves not able to do it. But because it is hard, challenging, perhaps unattainable, they are quite happy to just thrust away at it for a long time until they reach the goal. To not do something hard on the first go is quite normal and acceptable for the ego.
But when we are asked to do something simple like lie on our backs and stretch one side of the body and breathe deeply, and find that there is pain, discomfort, we say “hold on a second…what is happening here?”
What is happening here is that our bodies have aged, have adopted fixed patterns, have held onto thoughts and emotions and stored them in our abdominal muscles, our hips, our necks, and we have become unable to make those muscles do our bidding. We try to move the ribs with the breath, and we can’t. Upon finding that we can’t do something so seemingly simple, we reflect on how, once upon a time, we could. As children, we were all free and loose and easy. But time, and life, and blows, and ailments, and all that, steals our childhood from us and we become adults, then middle-aged and then, if we are lucky, old. The body ages but so does the mind. We swap physical agility for mental wisdom. Or that is the idea, anyway. There is concept that I love in yoga that goes like this:
Why do we do âsana? We do âsana to keep the body strong and supple and youthful so that we can live a long time. And why do we want to live a long time? So that we can gain wisdom.
Doing yoga is like holding a mirror up to our true selves and being forced to look. Mostly, we won’t like all that we see. The mirror as a symbol is powerful and appears all over in the popular culture. In Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Movie Orphée, the mirror is the portal between two worlds, the living and the dead. And in fact, a very eerie reflection uttered is :
“Les miroirs sont les portes par lesquelles la Mort va et vient. Du reste, regardez-vous toute votre vie dans une glace et vous verrez la Mort travailler commes les abeilles dans une ruche de verre.” (Mirrors are the doors by which Death comes and goes. You have only to look at yourself in the mirror every day and you will see Death at work there, like bees in a glass hive.)
Yes indeed. When we look at the mirror every day, we look at the face of Death. Our own death. This is getting heavy, but the Yoga Sutras are very clear about all this, in the first 5-10 aphorisms of the very first Yoga Sutras book, Patanjali identifies the Kleshas, the mental patterns that cause the vrittis, the mental fluctuations that assail us all. And right up there in spot number five is fear, abhinidvesa. Principle fear? Death.
We are all aware of our mortality but none of us wants to admit it, to face it. When we do, we cringe and shudder. This is normal. I love to ruminate on the human being’s awareness of the passage of time. We are, I believe, the only animal that marks time with such precision. We are time-obsessed species. Why? Because we are all unconsciously counting down the seconds of our lives. And this is wildly uncomfortable. Because what this forces us to do is to admit that our time is limited, that we must live fully in the present and create from our meagre and humble little lives the best and brightest creation that we can. And any abstention from this duty, whether through fear, intransigence, obstinance or fakery, is a negation of our duty to grow and gain wisdom and be the best person we can be.
Uff. All that at 8 in the morning. I think a lot. That is why I do yoga. So, I will leave you with a Joy Division song with footage from Orphée. Enjoy it, and live this day fully. And get on your mats, and breathe deeply and feel the love. It is there, all the time, and there is enough for everyone.
The qualities of a yoga practice – Santosha and Ahimsa
I had a great group come along for class yesterday afternoon. We did a practice designed for the legs and the âpana. We all had a good go at some standing balances, with a transition between two postures. And mostly everyone fell out of the poses at least once.
Teaching a class is a dynamic, fluid thing. I usually have drop-in groups, and of varying levels of experience. The skill of a teacher depends on being able to tailor the practice to the group and make it enjoyable and useful for everyone, while never straying from the essence of the teachings. This is called “pedagogy” and is the art of teaching.
I used the falling out of the poses to teach some yoga philosophy. I used the Sanskrit words “Ahimsa” and “Santosha” to help people understand how to deal with things like falling out of poses.
Ahimsa means non-violence. I use this word in the context of not allowing violent self-critiquing thoughts to arise. It is common to sigh in frustration when we can’t do something, say to ourselves “I always fall” or “I will never get it” or “I am useless”. We use ahimsa, which is one of the five Yamas of yoga, to practice peaceful, non-harming inner (and outer) dialogue.
Santhosha is one of the five Niyamas and of my favourite Sanskrit words. It means contentment, enjoyment more or less. Fall out of a pose? hahahah! Use Santosha to not want what others have, ie: don’t compare yourself to others, and be content with what you are.
Some people believe that the Universe is a big game, that it is all a joke. The archetype of the Trickster God is very common. Hermès, (AKA Mercury, my ruling planet) of the Greeks, was a trickster. Krishna was a trickster. The Raven of the Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples is aso a trickster. When you start to think of checks and balances in life as jokes, as something to laugh at, it all gets a bit lighter.
You see, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Fail and take it lightly, step wrong, then do a little shuffle and get back on the beat. Use non-violent inner dialogue to correct yourself, but not castigate. Use good humour to just take it as a little joke. Don’t put that strenuous face on in yoga, have fun.
Taint What you Do, It’s the Way That You Do It, as the old song goes. Here is a delightful live version of that old song, recorded by Sedajazz just up the road in beautiful Valencia.
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Yoga is meant to calm me…so why do I feel so nervous?
This is a brilliant question that I received this week from a newcomer to class. This particular lady was recommended yoga by her doctor, so comes as a special case. Ideally, it must be said, such a person would have private tuition. But, the mere fact that she has managed to make contact and come to class is practically a miracle.
Before the second class, she asked me this
During class last week, I felt very good. But afterwards, I went home and felt more nervous than ever. Isn’t yoga meant to calm me down?
Thus I replied: Most anxiety arises from repression of emotions. Anxiety and depression are often mixed, and sometimes confused. But they are vastly different. While depression has to do with a lowered level of mental activity, anxiety is a heightened state. In yoga terms, anxiety is rajas and depression is tamas.
Anxiety seems to arise when the brain is over-active. This can be an excess of information, or an excess of emotion. Most people with anxiety develop coping mechanisms. The best way to plunge on through life when your brain is screaming red murder is to pretend it isn’t happening. Here is the delightful Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s explaining it much more clearly than I ever could:
So, this lady suffers from chronic anxiety. ie: running to Tiffany’s every time she gets the mean reds. And Tiffany’s can be a place in your mind, it can be a bottle, it can be distraction, an addiction, whatever. You’re afraid and you don’t even know what you’re afraid of, the best response is to run, right?
Well, yes, until it isn’t the best response. Because, just like Holly Golightly, if we could find a real live place that makes us feel like Tiffany’s, then we would buy some furniture and give the cat a name.
You see, dear readers, dear students, dear seekers, yoga brings you home to that real live place. When suddenly you have contact with the Still Point inside of you, simply through breathing, movement and the right teacher, you realise that all your running was in vain. And you relax a little bit. But… the minute you relax a little bit and then go back to breathing fast and shallow, fighting with the traffic, being surrounded by people who are NOT on the Path and almost seem to wish to shove YOU off the Path, you have to start running away again. And you feel even more nervous than before.
You can think of it as a study of contrasts. If you are always in the mean reds, then a little deeper tone of red is hardly noticeable. But if you are suddenly “in the pinks” and you go back to the reds…ouch.
Why does yoga make me feel good in class but nervous afterwards? Because yoga holds a mirror up to your inner state and makes you look at the things you don’t want to see and have probably spent a lifetime avoiding. For that reason it is very, very, very important to have a trusting relationship with a qualified teacher.
Upon receiving that information from my student, a person I know hardly at all, I modified the pranayama at the end of the class and gave a technique specifically indicated for her, but that would cause no harm to any other members of the class. And then, the next morning, I texted her, to make sure she was okay. And she was. And what’s more, she felt good.
So, people, there are Youtube videos a-plenty, gymnasium yoga fit classes galore, all sorts of bells and whistles. But yoga is a practice that transcends all of this stuff and has tools to help everybody and the teacher is the one who will show you the path. Get on your mats, comes to class, breathe deeply, be joyful. The Spirit is within you, let it move you.