First, I want to thank Ashtanga instructor Robin Feinberg for her comment in which she states: “…‘when the going gets tough, Ashtangis breathe deeper’; ‘as your control and depth of Ujjayi grows, so grows your practice’; and to quote Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, ‘Ashtanga yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory. Practice and all is coming.’”…
I would like to focus on the theory part of Master Jois’ iconic statement, because it is theory that informs practice. As I mentioned in the last post, for a scientific principle to be valid, it has to be reproducible by other scientists. Now, take a moment and look at our Facebook page. Go to the “people who like this” section and look at the awesome pictures of yoga on display. Some of the most amazing are Ashtanga practitioners—from all over the world. This is clear evidence of sound theory informing a practice. Master Iyengar’s alignment principles have a similar scientific foundation. Aligning the joints maximizes joint congruency. This decreases the incidence of joint reaction forces being concentrated over a small region of cartilage and helps to prevent injuries in yoga. The same goes for his advice on pranayama (see below).
BTW, I searched Pubmed and found some scientific articles that support the safety and efficacy of deep breathing techniques, especially for the management of hypertension (high blood pressure). I share them with you here. The first discusses the beneficial effects of exercise and respiratory training for patients with severe pulmonary hypertension. The authors conclude, “This study indicates that exercise and respiratory training as add-on to medical treatment may improve exercise capacity and QoL (quality of life), and that they have a good long-term safety…” The next concludes that “Respiratory retraining using the slow breathing technique appears to be a useful adjunctive for cardio respiratory control in hypertensive patients.” The third is entitled “Breathing Control Lowers Blood Pressure” (‘nuff said). You can click through the links to read the full articles. So, we're beginning to see confirmation of practices the yogis have been doing for some time now—exciting stuff!
Bear in mind that anything as powerful as pranayama can also have adverse effects if practiced recklessly. You can find details of these effects and how to avoid them in B.K.S. Iyengar’s “Light on Pranayama” (the bible for pranayama). I also had the privilege to discuss my personal experience of some of these effects with Yogacharya Iyengar himself (trembling, salivation, headache). He gave me this pearl: “If you feel these effects, stop for the day. If you don’t feel them, continue on with your practice.”
On to the Tip . . .
Another way to validate a theory is with a concept known as portability. In general, something that works in one lab should work in another (or it is suspect). What does this have to do with yoga? Sound biomechanical theories, such as PNF and reciprocal inhibition, can be incorporated into whatever style you practice and transported across muscle groups as well. On a smaller scale, something that expands the chest in one pose should work to enable a deeper breath in another pose.
|Using the accessory muscles of breathing|
to expand the chest in Dandasana.
Let’s apply the concept of portability to our practice. Try the cue for activating the accessory muscles of breathing that we illustrated in Tadasana (see “A Cool Tip for Deeper Breathing in Yoga”) and apply it in Dandasana. As you inhale, engage the triceps to extend the elbows and press your hands into the mat. Draw the shoulder blades towards the midline with the rhomboids and middle trapezius and then attempt to drag the hands apart to activate the serratus anterior. Feel how this expands your chest. Release during your exhalation. Refer here for the anatomy particulars on these muscles—they work the same in this as in other poses (an example of portability). Take a look at our free e-book to see how you can use portability for other biomechanical principles, such as reciprocal inhibition and PNF.
Cool, so I’m on to my practice. Check back next week for some info on agonist/antagonist relationships. Be sure to visit us on Facebook for your free e-book and poster.