PRANAYAMA, A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

BEGINNERS GUIDE TO PRANAYAMA

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is one of the main component of Yoga. It is the breathing technique used to link the Body, Emotions, Mind and Spirit and is split in to four phases:

  • PURAKA is the inhalation.
  • KUMBHAKA is when the breath is held in.
  • RECHAKA is the exhalation.
  • SHUNYAKA is when the breath is held out.

When these four phases are used together in certain patterns they can greatly impact you, your health and your wellbeing.

There are many physical and spiritual benefits from Pranayama and here I will go through five of the main physical benefits you can enjoy from practising Pranayama.

  1. Decreases Stress Levels. Studies have shown that practising Pranayama will reduce stress levels in adults and can be used prior to exams and/or other stressful situations being faced. This can be accounted to increased oxygen uptake to the brain and vital organs.
  2. Reduces High Blood Pressure. Studies were done with 12 people all with mild HBP, 6  of them practised Pranayama and 6 of them took meds for of a duration of 6 weeks. The 6 that practised Pranayama experienced a lower blood pressure at the end thanks to the calming effects it has on our bodies.
  3. Improves Sleep Quality. Certain types of Pranayama (Bharamri for example) done for 5mins will slow down breathing and heart rate prior to sleep helping improve the quality and additional studies have shown pranayama can reduce snoring to improving sleep quality for your spouse  (win win).
  4. Improves Lung Function. Such controlled breathing techniques have been shown to increase the strength of your lungs along with helping issues such as asthma and bronchitis.
  5. Increases Mindfulness. The calming benefits of pranayama and the fact you are focusing on the moment and the breathing have shown increased mindfulness. Also it has been seen that practitioners are able to regulate emotions more effectively than none practitioners.

THREE EXAMPLES OF PRANAYAMA YOU CAN TRY AT HOME

  1. Bhramri Pranayama: This technique is in the seated position using your thumbs to plug your ears and your fingers to cover your eyes. Take a deep breath in and exhale with the chant of OM. Do this for 5 minutes before bed to help with your sleep quality.
  2. Kapalabhati Pranayama: Also done in the seated position with hands relaxed on the knee. Start with 2-3 normal breaths . Then take a deep breath in and exhale in 20 pulses through the nose while sucking your belly in on each pulse. Studies have shown that this helps with abdominal strength and can take you into mystical states.
  3. Dirga Pranayama: This technique is performed lying in the supine position (on your back) and is super simple. Start by inhaling (Puraka) and filling your belly so it rises, hold (Kumbhaka) for a few seconds then exhale (Rechaka) till all the air is gone by drawing the belly in. This technique has shown to help Anxiety, stress and is also beneficial to helping the parasympathetic nervous system to aid digestion.

SPIN THOSE CHAKRAS

Spin Those Chakras

I came into this 200hr yoga course for two reasons, one was to improve my flexibility and range of motion and the other was to add a new layer to my coaching for the current classes that I teach at the gym I work in. I certainly was not thinking about the spiritual and philosophical side of the experience.

Admittedly I was a bit sceptical about a lot of the philosophy side of it all when I began this journey  but after hitting the theory classes with Master Ram and YY they have successfully changed my view in a lot of it.

The philosophy was always going to be my Achilles Heel during this 200 hour experience  but one of the main things that has stuck is the Chakras. The day we discussed this I started (and I repeated started as there is so much to learn) to really take it in and believe there  is something there, I also started to realise that after 5000 years of yoga being practised there must be truth in it all.

The 7 Chakras

What is a Chakra? Chakra literally means wheel and Chakra refers to the seven spinning energy points in our body that start at the base of the spine and work up through our body to the top of the head. These seven spinning disks of energy are aligned with nerves, organs and glands and each Chakra radiates a different colour.

Each Chakra is linked to certain physical, emotional and psychological aspects of our life so a blockage of one Chakra can lead to personal issues.

  • Muladhara Chakra (The Root Chakra) Located at the base of the spine and radiates Red and is responsible for your sense of security and stability.
  • Svadhishthana Chakra ( The Sacral Chakra) Located at the lower abdomen and radiates Orange and is responsible for your sexual and creative energy.
  • Manipura Chakra (The Solar Plexus Chakra) Located at the Solar Plexus and radiates Yellow and is responsible for confidence and self esteem.
  • Anahata Chakra (The Heart Chakra) Located at the Heart and radiates Green and assists our love and compassion.
  • Vishuddha Chakra (The Throat Chakra) Located at the base of the Throat and radiates Blue and assists our ability to communicate verbally.
  • Ajna Chakra (The Third Eye Chakra) Located between the Eyebrows and radiates Indigo and is responsible for intuition and imagination.
  • Sahastrara Chakra (The Crown Chakra) Located at the crown of the head and radiates Violet and represents your spiritual connection to yourself, others and the universe.

To write a blog on every Chakra could possibly take a me a life time with my one finger typing skills so I will pick the Chakra that jumped out to me the most and this was the ANAHATA CHAKRA (The heart).

ANAHATA CHAKRA

Anahata, The forth Chakra, The Heart Chakra.

As you may have probably guessed its located in the heart region of the body, its colour is green (representing growth and renewed healthy relationships) and its element is air (representing freedom/expansion) with the Thymus as its gland. This Chakra is responsible for love, compassion, passion and trust.

When this Chakra is in balance you will be more friendly, more caring and understanding to others but when out of balance it can cause moodiness, loneliness, anxiety, jealousy and anger.

I think this Chakra jumped out to me as I feel that I can be balanced and imbalanced intermittently leaning more towards it being balanced side as I get older. I believe that my Heart Chakra is close to being balanced and will be trying the following to help complete the process.

  • Asanas: All Back bending poses (e.g Matsyasana/Fish Pose, Ardha Setubandhasana/Half Bridge) will assist in balancing my Heart Chakra.
  • Diet: Eating more Greens (Anahata Colour) can help to balance my Heart Chakra (e.g Brocolli, Apples, Spinich, Matcha and Kale). I definitely don’t eat enough.
  • Pranayama: Anulom Vilom with an inhale 4/hold 8/exhale 8 ratio.
  • Meditation: This will help with anxiety and will assist in restoring balance.

Hip Flexors, WHAT WHERE HOW?

Hip flexors, the muscles that are talked about a lot, but not really understood?

What and Where?

The hip flexors are a group of muscles found at the (you guessed it) hip area of the body. There are 3 main flexors for the hip, the Iliopsoas, the Sartorius and the Rectus Femoris all working together to help you lift your leg up to your front in the sagittal plane.

Ilipsoas

What are the Ilipsoas?: The Ilipsoas muscle actually consists of two muscles working to help flex the hip (with slight help to spinal rotation too). These are the Iliacus and the Psoas major muscles together known as The Ilipsoas muscle.

Where are the Ilipsoas? The Psoas muscles originate at the lumbar spine (L1-L5) in the lower back and the Iliacus originates at the Iliac fossa (top of the hip bone), both muscles join together at the top of the femur as their insertion point.

Sartorius

What is the Sartorius?: The Sartorius is the longest muscle in the human body, it’s a thin superficial muscle that runs down the front of the thigh towards the knee.

Where is the Sartorius?: The Sartorius starts at the ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine (side of the hip)) as its origin and works its way over the quad muscles down to the top of the Tibia (shin bone) on inside of the knee as its insertion point.

Rectus Femoris

What is the Rectus Femoris?: The Rectus femoris one of the Quad muscles, (the four big muscles on the front of your thigh) it is the biggest of the four and is also used to extend the lower leg at the knee joint (straighten your leg).

Where is the Rectus Femoris?: The Rectus femoris starts at the AIIS (Anterior Inferior Iliac Spine(side of hip but lower than the ASIS)) as its origin and runs down the thigh to its insertion at the base of the patella (knee cap).

Now the How?

How do Hip Flexors get tight? Hip flexors are very prone to getting tight in a lot of people due to the work they do. Many people sit at desks for up to 10 hours a day with their hip joints continuously flexed then head home for a few hours of television after a long day straight back into the seated position. So from this we can see that sitting for too long is actually the main culprit for tight hip flexors (especially the Ilipsoas). To make this worse I see a lot of people then taking up cycling to “get fit” which is great for your cardio but will also tighten those Hip flexors due to more continuous flexion and still no extension.

Tight hip flexors can also cause a lot of discomfort throughout the body and affect your posture too, from glute pain and low back pain to Anterior Pelvic tilt it is so important to stay flexible in the hips.

How do I stretch the Hip flexors? If you think about where your hip flexors are and how they are getting tight you simply just need to do the opposite. Flexion of the hip is the cause, Extension of the hip is the solution. There are many good Yoga poses that help with tight hip flexors, these poses can be seated, standing, prone and supine.

  • Seated: Ardha Kapotasana (Half Pigeon Pose)
  • Standing: Anjaneyasana (Low lunge)
  • Prone: Danurasana (Bow pose)
  • Supine: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

YOGA AND COMBAT SPORTS

YOGA AND COMBAT SPORTS

Combat Sports and Yoga are a lot more alike than many people will realise.

Being someone who has competed in Boxing, Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Art (MMA) I have always been looking at ways I can improve my game. Whether it’s trying to kick higher in Kickboxing or maybe trying to roll  out of a kimura lock in BJJ/MMA or even just trying to improve my balance in the Boxing ring.

Fighters and Yogis all want the same things at the end of the day/week/month and year.

They want Balance, Flexibility, Coordination, Strength, Core Strength and an effective way to stretch at the end of a work out (not to mention the need for a clear mind prior to any competition). 

It has happened to me many times when I’ve been to classes, be it Boxing, MMA or BJJ  and been involved in an in-effective warm up through to a tough training session and followed by an in-effective stretch out at the end. Admittedly I’ve never been injured due to a lack of warm up (touch wood) but have seen many people that have been, from small muscle pulls and cramps to actual muscle tears putting a fighter out of action for weeks.

This is good for absolutely no one. 

The club looks bad, the fighter is out of action and the regular members start to question the incident. 

So what to do?  

YOGA, THATS WHAT TO DO

Here are six asanas and the benefits for BALANCE and FLEXIBILITY  that will help a fighter improve and you will also be able to see that not only are these two health related skills improved you will also be targeting strength, core and coordination.

Balance: Now this is the probably the most important and most basic health related skill required for all combat athletes, if you cant stay on your feet in tricky situations you are toast in your opponent’s eyes, therefore holding these asanas for extended period of time will help keep you on your feet in combat sports:

  • Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3): Strengthens the shoulders, hamstrings, core strength and will also improve posture and
  • Vrikshasana (Tree Pose): Strengthens the core, leg muscles and will improve concentration with improved overall focus.
  • Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon): Strengthens the core, ankles, thighs and glutes while stretching the groin calves and chest and will also improve

Flexibility: Probably the second most important health related skill required by combat athletes, whether your aim is to kick higher in Kickboxing or to have more shoulder mobility in your BJJ classes/competitions flexibility is improved tenfold by participating in Yoga regularly. Here are 3 asanas that will help you hit those goals:

  • Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose): Strengthens biceps while stretches triceps, chest, quads and glutes while opening shoulders to increase range of motion.
  • Mandukasana (Frog Pose): Strengthens lower back, while opening hips to stretch the adductors therefore increasing abduction.
  • Dhanurasana (Bow Pose): Strengthens most posterior muscles while stretching most anterior muscles including anterior spine. Will also improve posture, aid anxiety and fatigue.

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These six asanas and their benefits  that I discussed are just a fraction of all the yoga asanas that will not only help combat sports participants but help every human no matter the age, sex and size.