Kriya Yoga and its relation to Kapalabhati

Kriya yoga is an ancient type of meditation technique often referred to as the “Yoga of Action or Awareness”, that when practiced smart, accelerates one’s spiritual progress. The book titled “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda is known as one of the modern founders of Kriya yoga which was later introduced as a practice in the West in the 1920s. The practice of Kriya yoga is taught only through a guru-disciple relationship and after an initiation ceremony, most practitioners of meditation spend time in self-study and practice until they are ready to be further initiated into the advanced practices of Kriya yoga. Beginning meditators are advised to use a mantra or word in order to focus their attention and progress into deeper meditation sessions.

Kapalabhati also known as “the skull shining breath” is a pranayama or breathing technique that purifies the front region of the brain and cleanses the respiratory system and nasal passage. It is an intermediate-to-advanced pranayama that consists of short, powerful exhales and passive inhales. This exercise is a traditional internal purification practice, or kriya, that tones and cleanses the respiratory system by encouraging the release of toxins and waste matter. It acts as a tonic for the system, refreshing and rejuvenating the body and mind.

Kapalabhati is invigorating and warming and it helps to cleanse the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system, which can help to prevent illness and allergies so regular practice strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles and increases your body’s oxygen supply, which stimulates and energizes the brain while preparing it for meditation and work that requires high focus.

However, it is important to avoid Kapalabhati if you are currently having high blood pressure, heart disease, or hernia. Women who are pregnant should also avoid practicing this exercise, as well. But as with all breathing exercises, it is important to always approach the practice with caution, especially if you have a respiratory condition, such as asthma or emphysema so never attempt any pranayama for the first time without the guidance of a qualified and knowledgeable teacher and always work within your own range of limits and abilities.

When practiced correctly, Kapalabhati Pranayama will cleanse, energize, and invigorate your mind, body, and spirit. This pranayama requires knowledge of and experience with basic breathing exercises. So if you are new to pranayama, allow yourself time to get acquainted with and proficient at Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama) and Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama) before introducing Kapalabhati into your practice.

Analysis & Yoga poses that engage: internal, external oblique muscles, and pelvic girdle

Location of internal and external oblique muscles

The internal abdominal oblique is a broad thin muscular sheet located on the lateral side of the abdomen while the external abdominal oblique is a paired muscle located on the lateral sides of the abdominal wall. As both names suggest, the direction of its fibres are obliquely oriented, making up the anterolateral abdominal wall. Together with the other abdominal muscles, the internal oblique affects the movements of the trunk, maintaining abdominal tension and increasing intra-abdominal pressure. The internal oblique muscle is also found deep in the external oblique with both working together to produce movements of the spine as well as to compress the abdominal viscera. As the external oblique muscle originates from the external surfaces of ribs 5-12, with the muscle fibres fanning out towards the midline and inferior margins of the abdomen, it is considered as the largest and most superficial of the lateral abdominal muscles.

Functions of internal and external oblique muscles

The internal abdominal oblique muscle has several functions that are dependent upon on the parts where the muscle contracts. Upon contraction, the internal abdominal oblique flexes the trunk, simultaneously causing compression of the intra-abdominal viscera, thereby increasing the intra-abdominal pressure which is utilised for functions including breathing, singing, defecation, and more. While the external oblique muscle has a variety of functions dependent on its contraction – either unilaterally or bilaterally. When contracted unilaterally and in synergy with the internal abdominal oblique, it rotates the trunk to the opposite side. However, when contracting bilaterally, the muscle works together the internal oblique to flex the trunk anteriority. This activity also increases the tone of the abdominal wall and positive intra-abdominal pressure, which is a part of various physiological process that includes exhalation, and labour. Along with other muscles of the abdominal wall, both internal and external oblique are highly important for maintaining normal abdominal wall tension and therefore, the contraction of these muscles play both a protecting and supporting role to reduce the risk of abdominal hernias.

Yoga poses that engage external oblique muscles

  1. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolving Lunge)Considered as one of the most common twisting poses due to its versatility, the revolving lunge can be performed by almost anyone – from beginner to an advanced yoga enthusiast with varying degrees of difficulty. As this position is performed, the opposite elbow is brought to the outside of the forward leg, with the body twisted towards the ceiling. This pose also stimulates the opening of the internal organs, allowing a deeper twist towards the ceiling which can be performed with the hands clasped together. To do this pose, simply stand with your feet three to four feet apart, point your right feet towards the right with your thigh at 90 degrees, extending your left leg straight with the heel lifted off the mat. Ensure that the weight is brought towards the right thigh and hinge your hip forward, twisting to the right and placing your left palm beside your right pinky toe, with your right arm extended towards the ceiling and gaze through your right thumb.2. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose)As we find ourselves slouching and our shoulders and hips carrying more stress, this is where Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) comes in handy to add in our yoga practice to realign and strengthen our body. This is where our upper arm, external oblique muscles, and back leg form one beautiful continuous diagonal line, working and stretching the various muscle groups. For those experiencing back pain, this pose also relieves back pain by lengthening the spine, strengthens the knees, tones the legs and increases stamina. To do this pose, simply stand with your feet three to four feet apart, point your left foot forward and ensure your right foot is 90 degrees to the side. Bend your right knee 90 degrees, raise your left arm over your head towards the right while you’re learning towards the right and gaze towards your right thumb. Open your chest and remain in five breaths before repeating on the left side.

Yoga poses that engage internal oblique muscles

  1. Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)

If you’re a bicycle rider, try practicing the revolve triangle pose for increasing performance. Although at first glance it might appear as your regular triangle pose, the body is twisted around so the opposite palm is placed just beside your right pinky toe. The revolve triangle pose helps open the chest and activates the spine with the help of the internal and external obliques, lengthening and releasing any muscle tension in the glutes and hamstrings which is great for improving balance and coordination. To get into this pose, simply stand with your feet about three to four feet apart, with your right feet pointed to the front and turn your left feet 45 degrees to the left. Square your hips and hinge from your hip toward the front, twisting your body to raise your right arm to the ceiling and open your shoulders. Stay here for five breaths before repeating on the left side.

2. Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)

The side plank pose is a very integrative, body aligning posture that has been found to an important part of a yoga routine to reduce scoliosis and increases engagement of the internal oblique to support the position.  It is valued not only for its strength-building capacity but also for its many variations, making it suitable for multiple class levels so whether you’re a beginner looking to modify the posture or an experienced yogi exploring advanced variations, expect to build upper body and core strength while honing your capacity to balance. Simply get into a downward facing dog pose, and come up to a plank position while placing your left palm on the mat. Pivot towards the edge of your left feet, and raise your right arm towards the ceiling aligning to the left shoulder. Engage the oblique muscles to lift the hips with the spine, reducing the weight on the left wrist and open your chest to gaze to your right thumb. Remain in five breaths before repeating on the left side.

Especially for desk-bound workers who experience tightness in their neck and shoulders due to prolonging of sitting infront of the computer, having firm oblique not only appears good but also supports the back and overall posture which helps to prevent injuries and pain associated with the lower back and shoulders including lumbar spine, thoracic and lumbar flexion.

Location and functions of the pelvic girdle

A ring-like bony structure, the pelvic girdle is located in the lower part of the trunk and connects the axial skeleton to the lower limbs and the bony pelvis consists of the two hip bones (also known as pelvic bones), the sacrum and coccyx. With this, the ligaments attached to the lateral border of the sacrum on the bony pelvis adds to the stability of a person. The strong and rigid pelvis is adapted to serve a number of roles in the human body, with the main functions including the transfer of weight from the upper axial skeleton to the lower appendicular components of the skeleton, especially during movement, provides attachment for a number of muscles and ligaments used in locomotion, and contains and protects the abdominopelvic and pelvic viscera.

Yoga pose that engage pelvic girdle

  1. Marjaryasana Bitilasana (Cat Cow Pose)

Awake the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles with this posture as it prompts you to hug the outer hips, which helps you feel the direct link between the outer hip/thigh muscles and pelvic floor. Simply get into downward facing dog pose, and soften the upper and inner thighs to roll them toward the wall behind you. From there, inhale as you drop your belly into cow pose then exhale as you push your hands into the mat and round your back into cat pose. Repeat for 5 breaths.

In the case of pelvic girdle instability, the ligaments that hold the pelvis together would have become loose. The main causes are usually physical stress, hormonal changes during pregnancy, a sports injury, births, and more. Pelvic girdle instability is characterised amongst other symptoms through low back pain, restricted mobility, and overstretch ligaments. To rapid reduce pain as well as strengthening and relieving the ligaments, massages of the pelvis usually help to alleviate the pain with heat treatments being able to effectively support therapy.

Internal cleansing secrets to a healthier and longer live

According to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), the global wellness economy is currently valued at $4.5 trillion with wellness expenditure totalling up to more than half as large as total global health expenditure at $7.8 trillion.

From circadian lighting to circadian diets to apps that utilise timed light doses to crush jet lag, the focus has shifted from sleep to true circadian health. With an avalanche of sleep solutions and a newly sleep-obsessed culture, why do we continue to remain in a sleepless epidemic with around 1 in 3 of us sleeping badly and 1 in 10 having regular insomnia?

Sleep and its impacts on daily peak performance

Research has shown how people are chronobiologically hardwired with genes that make us either night owls or early birds so early risers’ daily peak performance occurs early during the day while the night owls tend to occur later. In an always-on culture, adopting regimes where you would disconnect from devices or TV and dim lights before bed – banishing iPads or phones from the room are simple measures to take to trick your mind that it is bed time. In addition to that, a simple switch in home lighting – from using bright light with short wavelength, blue-light bulb to a dimmer, warmer, longer wavelength bulb with red, yellow, and orange colour spectrums boost melatonin. In fact, technology-enabled equipment such as an app-based home lighting creates flexibility that allows one to set different light schedules for different rooms, switching rooms to a natural setting based on astronomical time and location.

As a recent article in the Atlantic explains, temperature plays a critical role in supporting sleep: we need to be able to lose heat to sleep so being too hot or too cold interferes with this process. Studies have shown that people with sleep disorders sleep longer—and are more alert in the morning—in 16 celsius rather than 24 celsius rooms, and people who sleep in hot environments have elevated stress hormones in the morning. As such, medical experts agree we should sleep in environments somewhere between 10 and 15 celsius rooms.

Diet and its effectiveness on weight loss

For decades, diets have been all about the type of cuisine we consume (from Mediterranean, to Keto diet, etc) but science has revealed that when we eat has profound metabolic and weight loss consequences – this new evidence has been reflected in the rise of intermittent fasting (IF) which typically restricts eating and drinking to an 8-10-hour window a day. Studies have revealed that this form of fasting is very effective for weight loss. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. As the entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat. This metabolic switch from glucose-based to ketone-based energy also increases stress resistance, longevity and a decreased incidence of diseases including cancer and obesity. A new Salk Institute study shows the implications for the diabetes and obesity epidemic: people with metabolic syndrome who limited food and beverage consumption to a 10-hour window for three months saw big improvements in body composition and cholesterol levels.

How then does matching the timing of eating with our circadian rhythms (with light and dark) impact health? More studies suggest that we should be embracing and adopting the terminology of a circadian diet. While intermittent fasting can have people take their first bite (an important cue that impacts other clocks in our organs) way after the light of morning, a body of evidence shows that calories are metabolised better in the morning than evening so synchronising meal times with our circadian rhythms lead to significantly more weight loss and reduce insulin resistance than if you ate the same food without a schedule, concluding that a larger breakfast, a medium-sized lunch, and small dinner drive optimal results.

Home & Environment

In this newly enlightened age, neuroscientists, doctors, and architects are all working hard on nailing the science of circadian rhythm-supporting light – what intensity and colour, at what time, for how long, and for whom because circadian systems differ from person to person – by age, where you live, etc. So for instance, when kids hit puberty, they have their circadian and sleep cycles pushed about two hours later than a typical adult, and while human evolution began near the equator, where daylight hours are consistent, most of us live with ever-shortening and lengthening days, becoming more extreme as we head up or down the poles.

As our home is supposed to be a refuge from the world, where one can relax and recharge, decluttering can help one to feel lighter and more positive. For example, if a stack of unopened mail is a constant reminder of things that one needs to do, starting to tackle that pile is one way to keep the area clutter-free in the future so taking small steps and making changes one at a time is a good way to start a new habit. Research also shows that even short contact with nature is beneficial to our well-being so as little as 3-5 minutes of contact with nature has been linked to reduced stress, reduced anger and a boost in positive feelings. Some of the same effects are seen if we have views to nature or can bring nature into the living space through plants or fresh flowers, aquariums and even fireplaces.

Yoga and its effects of stress on the body

Studies have shown that practicing yoga postures reduce pain for people with conditions such as cancer, auto-immune diseases, hypertension, arthritis, and chronic pain. It improves body alignment resulting in better posture, relieving back, neck, joint, and muscle problems. Additionally, taking slower, deeper breaths improve lung function, triggering our body’s relaxation response and increase the amount of oxygen available to our body – allowing us to increase vitality and strength from head to toe as we enhance our mobility. As with anything, continuous and consistent practicing of yoga allows us to begin to use the correct muscles, and over time, our ligaments, tendons, and muscles lengthen, increasing elasticity, make more poses possible. As our flexibility in the body lends to greater openness in the mind, we gradually become less rigid, less opinionated and more adaptable to ‘go with the flow’. Afterall, improving our posture and stamina allow us to focus better and with a deep sense of inner calm and clarity, that only brings us closer to our inner peace.

 

Yoga philosophy and now-ness

Whether your life is punctuated with bouts of joy or sadness, depression or contentment, or longer, deeper experiences of trauma and turmoil, you are not alone. In the Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined to mean, “the yogic experience.” Yoga is often translated as “union” of mind, body and spirit. Classically, yoga is understood as the science of the mind so the yogic experience is that which is gained by controlling the modifications of the mind. Sri Patanjali, considered the “father of yoga,” is credited with compiling the Yoga Sutras (the threads of yoga), which date anywhere from 5,000 B.C. to 300 A.D. In the West, yoga is primarily thought of as asanas (postures), breathing (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana) because many experience relaxation and ease with the practice of yoga, yoga is considered a mind-body exercise. The underlying premise of mind-body exercises is that the physiological state of the body may shape emotions, thoughts and attitudes.

So diving into the world of yoga philosophy will help you in discovering that suffering (known as dukha in Sanskrit) is a part of the process of life. Any sort of suffering can be seen as what is known as a klesha – an obstacle on the path to freedom and enlightenment. Overcoming these obstacles is what a yoga practice is all about, and if we’re going to overcome suffering, all the physical, mental, emotional and energetic tools need to be brought forth.

Calming the ‘Citta’- Chatter

The second sutra of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reads;

Yogas citta vrtti nirodha

Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind

These fluctuations of the mind are what cause us to experience momentary joy or sorrow and can cause us to wallow in sadness for months or years, or scatter the mind in all directions so we feel anxious without knowing why. When the mind is in a state of chattering away, fluctuating from attachment to hatred, happiness to sadness, and self-doubt to delusion, all of our mental energy is scattered and figuratively ‘leaks out’ of us. When the mind’s energy is leaky and scattered, this has an instant impact upon how we act physically; the breath will usually become shallow and short, and the muscles held more tense than necessary so all these things send messages back to the mind that it should be wary, scared and stressed, and without interrupting this fluctuating cycle, we find ourselves locked in a state of dukha or suffering.

It is these ‘diverse streams’ or fluctuation and energy – as Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani puts it – that are concentrated and unified into one place through the practice of yoga; “The central theme of Yoga is the golden mean, finding the middle path, a constant search for moderation and an harmonious homoeostatic balance. Yoga is the “unitive impulse” of life, which always seeks to unite diverse streams into a single powerful force.  Proper practice produces an inner balance of mind that remains stable and serene even in the midst of chaos.

If yoga had a ‘goal’, it would be to attain freedom and liberation from all suffering; the practices involved in the yogic process have the by-product of helping us live as healthily and harmoniously as possible, in contentment and peace.  Dr. Bhavanani explains how this harmony is brought about “….right-use-ness of the body, emotions and mind with awareness and consciousness. It must be understood [however] to be as healthy a dynamic state that may be attained in spite of the individual’s sabija karma that manifests as their genetic predispositions and the environment into which they are born”.

Whilst yoga philosophy may focus on uniting the scattered mind, calming fluctuation thoughts, and balancing the amount the mind takes in and processes, nowhere does it actually say that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. This ‘end goal’ of yoga doesn’t translate as happy or joyful, rather Samadhi would refer to the ability to witness and understand reality as it is. Rather than following the scattered thoughts of the mind, believing everything we think is true, holding onto the past or fretting about the future, or getting caught up in the narcissism of ‘I, me, and my’, Samadhi is about being here right now, experiencing the feeling of now-ness, not grasping for a fleeting feeling of joy.