“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Importance of Theory (and Another Cool Tip for Deeper Breathing)

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.

accessory muscles of breathing in dandasana
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.

Namasté,

 Ray

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for stopping by Adan--you are right, portability and reproducibility go hand in hand. The difference, in the laboratory setting, is that you could be reproducing a result in one lab and drawing a conclusion, but if you can't do it in another lab, with the same conditions, then the conclusion might be suspect. There might be an unrecognized factor particular to the original lab that contributed to the result. If you try it in another lab and don't have the same outcome, then, if you are diligent, you track down the unknown factor. This can lead to a completely different conclusion, sometimes serendipitous and valuable. Consider the discovery of penicillin for example. It was serendipitous due to the untidy nature of Alexander Fleming's lab!
    Here is a quote from him from Wikipedia:

    "When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer," Fleming would later say, "But I suppose that was exactly what I did".[5][2]

    Approach your yoga diligently too. At first the discoveries seem random and unconnected. Then you start to see patterns of how you can apply principles like PNF. You start to work with the concepts together and can make a quantum leap in your practice and life.

    Cool eh?

    Ray

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  2. Thank you for a wonderful blog. I have been using the techniques and have seen the results. However I do not understand why do you need to rest 48 hours between applying PNF to particular muscle groups?

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  3. Hi Elyogini,

    Delighted that you enjoy our blog and are seeing results! On resting 48 hrs after applying PNF: PNF is a powerful method of contracting a muscle against resistance, even though it's objective is stretching. One could theoretically stretch the muscle group every day, but this can be rather intense and give symptoms of overtraining. Athletic/sports medicine generally advocates 48 hrs for recovery after working out with resistance to avoid these symptoms. There is much evidence to support this, especially in pro athletes, who will alternate training the upper body one day and the lower body the next, thus allowing 48 hrs for recovery.

    Hope this helps--All the Best with your yoga and keep me posted on how it is going.

    Namaste'

    Ray

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  4. The risque with yoga is that is gets to religous. If all your focus is on the rituals (the practise) - the poses - then the best yogi is the one who look best when performing the asanas.

    The reason I do yoga is to obtain a more relaxed body in better balance reducing the risque for joint problems, visceral problems etc. To feel better. The more theory can tell me how about the biomechanical function, the distribution of force and possible places were force vectors can be "Locked up" the easier it is to visualize how to perform movement, direct the action for the breathing musculature, combine stability and mobility at different spots etc. And to avoid aggravating problems due to imbalance. I have seen very many people worsing eg. a bad shoulder trying to follow the ritual and press themself in downward facing dog.

    If we would like the spread the advantages of yoga as much as possible then theory and descriptive explanations is the way. Otherwise many people will avoid it due to an impression of mystisism.

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  5. Hello Sven,

    One of the aspects of practicing hatha yoga that is so appealing to me is that the "mystical" experience can happen automatically when the poses and breathing are working well. All the Best! Thanks for posting.
    Ray

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  6. Hello Ray,

    I agree - and then if your realized the physics behind the mystical experience then it's even more appealing. The cartoon by Sidney Harris came to my mind (see link below):

    http://star.psy.ohio-state.edu/coglab/Miracle.html

    The fomula of hatha yoga is a bit like that. I think that the physical explanation for the miraculous fudge factors involves a "unified theory" including a.o. reciprocal inhibition. Thanks for all your observations - I look forward to your comming posts.

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  7. Haha! That's a great cartoon, Sven.

    On a serious note, I agree with your use of the word "formula" in reference to hatha yoga. It is like that, and it "works", though we have to work backwards from the outcome to determine its cause. In the process, we can discover ways to amplify and enhance the "miracle". This involves necessarily looking outside of the accepted paradigms. In the case of PNF, this involves stealing a page from Western science, which is one example of something scientific that can amplify the effects of yoga practice.

    Thanks for stopping by~Ray

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  8. ray, glad you pointed that out: "The difference, in the laboratory setting, is that you could be reproducing a result in one lab and drawing a conclusion, but if you can't do it in another lab, with the same conditions, then the conclusion might be suspect."

    and that synergetic affect, "Then you start to see patterns of how you can apply principles like PNF" - seems to really be kicking in for me when i do routines other than yoga, yet reminding me of how yoga and say aerobic or resistance work relate, i love it! ;-)

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