Pranayama As a Tool To Combat Hypertonia

In the modern world there are many typical diseases that have become so popular that people stopped really caring about them. Hypertonia or high blood pressure is one of them. Although many people don’t feel it at all and therefore don’t treat it, its influence can be slow and sly: it affects target organs like brain and heart and eventually causes big troubles.

The only treatment classical evidence-based medicine offers are medications. But the problem with them is that curing one thing you inevitably cause problems in other parts of your precious body. Thus hypertonia – as well as any other illness – is much better to be addressed with a holistic approach.

As yoga itself is a very holistic system it can have positive impact on hypertonia as well. There’s no doubt meditation as well as many asanas are aimed to return your blood pressure back to normal but in this article I’m going to focus on the curing effect of two kinds of pranayama: Shetetali and Sheetkari.

There was held a randomized control trial with 60 hypertensive individuals, aged from 25 to 65, who were recruited from the general population located in and around Ujire, Belthangady, Karnataka, India. The study aimed to measure the effects of these types of pranayama on blood pressure, nervous system, and respiratory functions among hypertensive participants. They were divided into two equal sized groups where one half daily practised Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayamas 10 minutes each, and the second half was asked just to sit quietly for 20 minutes.

The participants who practised pranayama showed a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate. Therefore the study concluded that Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayamas appear effective.

 

How To Perform

Sheetali Pranayama:

  1. Sit in a comfortable posture and close your eyes.
  2. Keep your hands on your knees throughout the practice.
  3. Protrude your tongue from your mouth and extend it to a comfortable distance.
  4. Roll its sides up so that it forms a tube.
  5. Breathe slowly and deeply through the tube-like tongue.
  6. Close your mouth at the end of inhalation and slowly exhale through your nose.
  7. Repeat the same process for 10 minutes daily.

Sheetkari Pranayama:

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditative posture and close your eyes.
  2. Keep your hands on your knees throughout the practice.
  3. Press your lower teeth and upper teeth together and separate your lips as much as is comfortable.
  4. Breathe in slowly through the gaps in your teeth.
  5. Listen to the sound of your breath as the air is being drawn in.
  6. Close your mouth at the end of inhalation and slowly exhale through your nose.
  7. Repeat the process for 10 minutes daily.

 

Repeat the sequence of these two pranayamas for 30 days and probably you won’t need blood pressure medications any more.

Backpain and Exercises to Keep It Away

Everyone wants to heavy healthy back and never experience backaches but not many people are aware even of what our back is made of and what can cause troubles.

The back – as well as any other part of our body – is a real engineering masterpiece. There’re three groups of muscles that work together to keep us straight. These groups are:

  • Superficial – associated with movements of the shoulder.
  • Intermediate – associated with movements of the thoracic cage.
  • Deep – associated with movements of the vertebral column.

The superficial back muscles (trapezius, latissimus dorsi, levator scapulae and the rhomboids) are located underneath the skin and superficial fascia. They originate from the vertebral column and attach to the bones of the shoulder – the clavicle, scapula and humerus. Therefore zone of responsibility for these muscles is the upper limb:

–              Trapezius elevates the scapula and rotates it during abduction of the arm, retracts the scapula and pulls it inferiorly.

–              Latissimus Dorsi Extends, adducts and medially rotates the upper limb.

–              The action of Levator Scapulae is clear from the very name – it elevates the scapula.

–              And two rhomboids – major and minor – retract and rotate the scapula.

The intermediate group contains two muscles – the serratus posterior superior and serratus posterior inferior. These muscles run from the vertebral column to the ribcage and assist with elevating and depressing the ribs. They are also believed to have a slight respiratory function.

The deep muscles of the back are represented by Splenius Cervicis, Splenius Capitis, Iliocostalis, Longissimus, Spinalis, Semispinalis, Multifidus, Rotatores, Interspinales, Intertranversari and Levatores costarum. They extend from the sacrum to the base of the skull to move the vertebral column and the control the posture.

All these groups of muscles work together to keep us erected and straight, but despite their hard work backpain is not a rare case. It can occur due to various problems like pinched nerve, osteoarthritis, spinal infection, scoliosis etc., but in this article we are going to take a closer look only at a few most common causes:

1)           Muscle deconditioning and poor posture

We can do sport and provide conditions for our muscles to become stronger. But unfortunately it also works the opposite way: we can misuse or just not use them at all therefore making weaker and more vulnerable. Due to sedentary way of life the most typical body pose is being C-shape screwed over the desk. When a person slouches, pressure from gravity and the body itself pushes on the spine, neck, discs, and ligaments and over the time it can lead to backpain.

The solution in this case is simple but time consuming: improve your regular pose and lifestyle to recondition the muscles. Correct your posture while sitting and take regular breaks from the desk to move around and stretch. You can just stand up, flex your arms up and down for a few times, round your spine by protracting the shoulders and open it up by retracting it.

2)           Muscle overuse

When we use the same few muscles over and over again it can lead to muscle overuse. This problem is quite typical among players of some particular kind of sport or workers where range of body motions is limited and one muscle is overused while the other ones are underused. Over the time it leads to muscle irritation and tightness and if ignored can turn into chronic pain.

Treatment for muscle overuse typically begins with resting the area, as well as using heat or ice packs to promote blood circulation to the muscle tissues. And the best option is of course to find ways to diversify the motions and take breaks between activities.

3)           Traumatic injury

A traumatic injury can also lead to back pain. This may be the result of car accidents, falling, incorrect lifting of the things or overworking. Not all injuries are obvious and sometimes pain can develop even the next day. Traumatic injuries can be severe and cause life lasting complications, that’s why it’s important to have your body checked by the doctor in case of trauma.

4)           Herniated disc

Herniated discs are more common in the lower back but may sometimes happen in the upper back too.

Discs are the soft, rubbery cushions between each vertebra. Herniated discs occur when a piece of this cushion pokes through and puts pressure on the spine. Even a small amount of pressure is enough to cause pain or other symptoms like numbness or weakness in the arms or legs. To fix this problem some people may need surgery while others will recover with rest or medications.

5)           Pinched nerve

If a herniated disc slips far enough out it compresses the nearby nerve. A pinched nerve in the middle back may cause numbness and pain in the arms or legs, problems with urination control, weakness, or loss of control in the legs.

When a pinched nerve comes from a herniated disc, the treatment is similar to treating the herniated disc.

 

Simple exercises to get rid of backpain.

First, loosen up the muscles in your problem area with a good stretch. It will help to restore flexibility, promote range of motion, and improve blood flow — all of which can alleviate pain. The perfect stretch time is about 2 minutes. You can do following exercises:

–              Neck side bend and head rotation to different directions. Clockwise and counter clockwise 2-3 times each.

–              Shoulder rolls back and forward. 5 rotation each direction, repeat for 2-3 times.

–              Overhead arm stretch: flex your right arm up above your head and reach to the left. Bend your torso until you feel the stretch in your right side; repeat with the left arm. Repeat 5 times for each arm.

–              Pec stretch. For this you need a doorway. Step into it and place your forearms on the doorframe. Make sure your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle. Let the weight of your body fall forward slightly so that you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 3 times.

–              Torso rotation. Sit on the floor or on a chair. Flex your body to the right and extend your right arm as much as you can. Repeat with the left side. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.

–              Cat – cow. Go to the floor. Put your palms directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Inhale, tuck your pelvis and round out your mid back. Draw your navel toward your spine and drop your head to relax your neck. After 3-5 seconds exhale and return to a neutral spine position. Then turn your face toward the sky and arch your back. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat this sequence 5 times.

–              Thoracic extension. Use a chair. Sit straight and then open your upper body to the ceiling. Make sure your lower back and your midback are still pressed against the chair. Flex your arms up for a deeper stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 3 times.

–              Elbow butterfly. Place your palms each on the same shoulder. Flex your rams bringing your elbows together to touch. Hold for 5 seconds and release. Then try to extend your arams as uch to the back as you can. Complete 3-5 more times.

After you’re stretched up you can move to building a bit of strength around your back. Here are a few simple exercises to make it:

–              Scapular retract. With your arms down by your sides squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

–              Wall angles. Stand with your back flat against the wall. Abduct your arms to create a “T” shape against the wall then bend your elbows to create a 90-degree angle. Slowly move your arms up and down to 90 degrees angles ensuring that they stay flat against the wall the whole time. Complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

–              Superman. Lay down on your stomach with your arms flexed above your head. Keep your neck neutral, use your back and glutes to lift your arms and legs concurrently. Pause briefly at the top and return to start. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

–              Push ups. Start in a high plank. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees, then straighten the arms again. Do as many push ups as you feel comfortable but not less than 5.

 

Yoga also has many poses for which your back will thank you. The nest ones are:

–              downward facing dog (muscles used: hamstrings, deltoids, gluteus maximus, triceps, quadriceps)

–              extended triangle (muscles used: latissimus dorsi, internal oblique, gluteus maximus and medius, hamstrings, quadriceps)

–              cobra pose (muscles used: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, deltoids, triceps, serratus anterior)

–              sphinx pose (muscles used: erector spinae, gluteal muscles, pectoralis major, trapezius, latissimus dorsi)

–              locust pose (muscles used: trapezius, erector spinae, gluteus maximus, triceps)

–              bridge pose (muscles used: rectus and transverse abdominis, gluteus muscles, erector spinae, hamstrings)

–              two knee spinal twist (muscles used: erector spinae, rectus abdominis, trapezius, pectoralis major)

 

Keep moving, love your back and your back will love you back!

 

 

 

 

 

How Scents Can Influence Our Yoga Practice and Mood

For centirues people have been using all kinds of scents in various forms to influence the mind and body. Almost every spiritual path includes the burning of incenses for different rituals: there are scents to cleanse the surroundings, to calm down, to attract money and luck, etc. From the modern scientific point of view we know that scents not only cleanse the air of bacteria, but the air actually becomes charged with negative ions that refresh and renew both our environment and bodies.

The science known to us as “Aromatherapy” is believed to be at least 6,000 years old. Burning of incense and the application of sacred attar oils can be called the oldest forms of it that still present as well as modern forms like diffusing essential oils or applying perfume. The science of Aromatherapy confirms that scent, whether inhaled or applied topically, exerts dramatic effects on our minds and bodies. So how does it work?

Brainwaves Frequency

It is well known that the brain is an electrochemical organ. Electrical activity emanating from the brain is displayed in the form of brainwaves.

Our brain can work in 5 main frequencies that are in constant motion:

  • Beta (14 – 30 cycles per second) – strongly engaged mind;
  • Alpha (7 – 14 cycles per second) – detached consciousness, relaxation and meditation, the bridge between Beta and Theta;
  • Theta (4 – 8 cycles per second) – the first stage at which we begin to dream while we sleep, state of daydreaming; it is considered a powerful, almost magical state of mind in which people can literally walk on hot coals without getting burned, or are able to heal their bodies;
  • Delta (0 – 4 cycles per second) – deep sleep;
  • Gamma (25 – 100 cycles per second) – peak concentration and high levels of cognitive functioning.

 

It is believed that when we are in the Gamma state, which is the state of deep meditation, we experience the most favorable brainwaves for mind and body healing.  Scientists have discovered that time spent in meditation helps to significantly release stress and anxiety and clarify the mind. What’s wonderful is that this mindfulness stays even for days after meditation session has finished. Brain hemispheres become more synchronized and function more efficiently which leads to creative thinking and enhancement of imagination. Due to the release of endorphins the state of Gamma fields can be called the state of bliss.

So what about the scent? Every smell we feel goes to our brain and “talks” to it in a certain way. Studies show that particular scents stimulate particular brainwaves more than others.

For example:

  • Alpha brain waves are stimulated by the scent of lavender;
  • Beta brain waves are increased by jasmine, resulting in a relaxed, yet alert and clear state of mind;
  • Theta and Gammas brain waves arouse in response to patchouli, musk, sandalwood, which makes them ideal aromas to use when meditating;

 

 

Frankincense, cedarwood, and palo santo are also fragrances that have been used for centuries in spiritual and religious pursuits. Of course, the ancient practitioners didn’t have any scientific basis and just picked the most appealing species, but they really worked. The same way as sick animals know what plant can cure them, we can feel which scent will be favorable for us so there’s actually no need to be a scientist. The fragrance that is the most pleasing to you is guaranteed to enhance your meditation or spiritual practice simply by putting you in a positive frame of mind.

 

 

Natural only!

Scientists have proven that in order scents have effect on our minds and bodies they must be 100% natural. Synthetic scents contain chemical structures that simply do not fit into our cell receptors so they can never produce the same effect that natural ones. Of our five senses it is only smell that links directly to the limbic system. Therefore, natural fragrances can do miracles over our bodies as the limbic system is directly connected to the parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, stress levels, and hormone balance in addition to memory.

Even if the person cannot feel the odor due to some health issues, aromatherapy will still work as the natural constituents will be inhaled and influence the brain.

Different Forms

Modern market provides different options for scent spreading and it’s often easy to get lost in the variety. Here’s a short guide how to choose the perfect form for you.

  • Incense sticks and cones are made from a variety of combustible substances that give off a fragrant scent when burned. The word “incense” is actually derived from the Latin word for “to burn”. This form gives a quick boost of fragrance making it the ideal choice when you don’t have a lot of time. Incense sticks generally burn for less than an hour and the fragrance and scent throw can be quite strong.

Pros:

  • Give fast fragrance boost
  • Give stronger scent

 

Cons:

  • Mess made by falling ash
  • Danger of burning
  • According to several researches burning incense may cause lung problems when used regularly

 

Recommendation: if you want to find natural incense stick of a good quality keep in mind it shouldn’t produce any smell until it’s lit. Before buying a pack of sticks sniff them and if they exude a powerful aroma don’t pick them, there’s nothing natural.

 

  • Scented candles are made from a combination of wax and scent oil, that when lit, diffuse aromas into the air.

Pros:

  • Not only give he scent but also cast a warm glow creating cosy atmosphere in the room
  • Due to combination with the wax the smell is more complex

 

Cons:

  • It takes about an hour for the scent to fill the space, moreover short burns considerably cut down the life of a candle
  • Again – better don’t leave them unattended

 

  • Reed diffusers come with three main parts; the fragrance oil, the vessel and the reeds or sticks. The sticks are made out of porous types of wood, they absorb the fragrance oil and gently diffuse it into the surrounding air, giving off a continuous stream of scent until all of the oil has dissipated.

 

Pros:

  • Give contineous long-lasting scent
  • Flameless, so no need to worry
  • You can place them even in the most distant corner of the premises

 

Cons:

  • Not suitable when you need a quick aromatic boost
  • You can get tired of the same smell every day.

 

 

  • Oil diffusers are maybe the newest scent devices on the market. Oil diffuser breaks essential oils down into smaller molecules, dispersing them into the air.

 

Pros:

  • Flameless
  • Provide fast boost of scent
  • Usually have beautiful design
  • You can combine different oils to create a unique scent of your own

 

Cons:

  • water diffuser can harbor bacteria in the liquid if it’s left sitting, which can cause health problems the next time you turn it on, so regular cleaning is needed
  • essential oils can be pricey

What Oils Are the Best For Yoga Practice

  1. Frankincense Oil – provides relaxing effect, ideal for meditation; has a very neutral smell that almost everybody will like.
  2. Sandalwood Oil – similar to Frankincense: very good for relaxation and meditative purposes; one of the best oils for focus and concentration. It reduces cortisol level, so can be used in the evening to calm down after stressful day.
  3. Rose Oil – promotes self-confidence, ideal to use in the morning.
  4. Orange Oil – activates the endorphin centers of the brain, so promotes good mood, boosts concentration and focus.
  5. Lemon Oil – has similar properties with the orange oil but a bit quieter smell; boosts energy and improves self-esteem.
  6. Lavender Oil – the most popular relaxing oil, creates peaceful environment and slows down the mind.
  7. Ylang-Ylang Oil – alleviates negative emotions and releases tension, boosts flexibility and relaxex.
  8. Peppermint Oil – improves breathing, alleviates respiratory problems.
  9. Clary Sage Oil – relaxes the mind, increases inner peace.
  10. Cedarwood Oil – a very natural smell that creates atmosphere of the forest.

 

 

The world of scents is vast and it’s only you who knows what smell will pull the strings of your soul right and when it’s better for you to use it. The only thing to remember – it should be natural and you should truly like it. Feel free experimenting and enjoy your journey!

How Yogic Philosophy Makes You a Better Parent

My elder son who is almost 6 years old happens to be quite different from me 😊 He’s a great guy and I’ve always known it but for a long time I had what’s called tapa duhka: he was just not the way I expected him to be. For example, I’d give him my most favorite dessert and he would respond “that’s yucky” demanding something that seems yucky for me. We’d go to the zoo and instead of listening to different stories about animals he would ask me about electricity layout and why this streetlamp has two bulbs while that one has three. Etc etc etc. It used to drive me crazy until I finally realized: the problem is not him, the problem is ME and MY expectations. And that’s when I saw how important it is to apply Yamas and Niyamas to our relationships with kids. Here’s how I do it in my parenting process:

Yamas

  • It’s evident that any kind of abuse is totally inappropriate in the family. But while it’s clear on the physical level it’s so easy to ignore it in our thoughts. Kids are like our mirrors –once you’re angry they will feel it even if you’re pretending to be nice. And once they feel your bad thoughts, they will act them out through their own behavior. So, no bad feelings. If you’re out of your inner resources, go and work on yourself until you love the world again and only then go back to your kids.
  • Satya – truthfulness. Be sincere. If you want your little ones to stop eating chocolate because it’s bad for their health, don’t eat it yourself. If you feel angry at them – tell them directly. Once I feel I’m boiling I always confess honestly – “Mummy is very angry now, once I cool down, we’ll talk”. And they do respect my feelings at this moment.
  • Asteya – non-stealing. For me it means respect and giving them the right to choose. Don’t make kids share if they don’t want to. For example, “This is your toy, and you have a right not to share with your sister”. “It’s your right to decide whether you want to help me with cleaning or not”. And what surprised me when I first started practicing this kind of approach is that they are taken aback and express their will to share or help at once.
  • Brahmacharya – moderation, redirecting the feelings from outside to inside. Young children are very extraverted by their nature and so becomes an adult who takes care of them. They constantly demand new impressions, things, games, etc. For this reason, it’s very important to remind them that all that external staff is just external. To pay their attention that happiness is always within and it’s silly to associate it with wealth. As my little ones grow older I dream of having family meditations so that they feel it themselves.
  • Aparigraha – non-possessiveness. This principle is crucial in the modern world of material things and abundance. In my family we always sort out rubbish to recycle and reuse whatever we can. I teach kids always to think “Do I really need it?” before buying something. Do I really need a straw? After one usage it will go to a trash can and very probably will end up somewhere in the sea. Do I really need a 10th toy? If yes, do I remember I will have to spend my precious time to put it to box and clean weekly? Aparigraha is also applied in other sense: don’t interrupt others while they’re talking and talk only when you have something important to say. Respect private space. Respect the boundaries. Little sister wants to solve the puzzle herself? Respect her right.

 

Niyamas

  • Saucha – purity. The hardest principle for all young kids: keep clean! It all starts from us, adults who should always wash up in time before the kitchen is piled up with dirty dishes. And later the same habit passes to kids: you played with puzzles – put them back. You got up – wash your face. You pooped – wash you-know-what. While we are physically clean surrounded by cleanliness it’s much easier to have our mind clean as well.
  • Santosha – contentment and gratitude. When I got my second child in a foreign country without any help, this principle is the first thing I discovered as a lifebuoy. When you’re swamped with work it’s very tempting to fall into hopelessness and blame the whole world for everything. Practicing Santosha means to be able to welcome whatever we have and express gratitude to the Universe for every trifle it gives. We should never compare our life to the lives of others and our kids with other kids. I remember how painful it was for me as a child when my mother said “Everyone’s kids help their parents unlike you” or “My friend’s daughter has better marks than you”. Santosha means never to do or think things like that neither about your life nor about your kids.
  • Tapas – self-discipline. For me as a parent it means to be a good example of the discipline coping with the laziness. Discipline means being loyal to what you believe to be good for your body and your soul. If you know physical exercises are necessary for your body – just do them without excuses. If you hate to brush your teeth (and no doubt the kids hate it too) but you don’t want to visit dentist – just do it despite “I hate” and gradually you’ll teach yourself to love it. The kids will see it in incorporate in their own lives.
  • Swadhaya – self studying. In application to bringing up process Swadhaya can mean continuous education. The older the kids get the more we need to know. There’re many psychological issues and educational approaches in the world and the more we read the more gimmicks we can acquire. Moreover, to understand our kids needs it’s crucial to understand our own ones, so we should never stop improve ourselves through education.
  • Ishwara-pranidhana – surrounding to the Highest. Whatever misunderstanding with kids you have just remember it’s given to you because you need it for something. Our kids are our little teachers and motivators so every lesson they give is meant to make us better. So just surrender and enjoy the moment!

Once you deeply understand all this and incorporate in your life, the relationship even with the most demanding kids will reach a level of harmony, as well as your inner ocean will stay calm and nice 😊