Pranayama and Dealing with Tattoo Pain

     Random cool tattooed yogi [1]

First world problems, I know. What with all the world’s best doctors and scientists hard at work developing links between yoga and its effectiveness for use in treatments of REAL pathologies, it’s granted that more inspired topics are to be regulated to the backburner, and the scientific community at large can surely be forgiven for overlooking this potentially very fruitful area of research.

But such is. And we can’t all be engaged in solving life’s big problems, need some of us to engage in the little ones as well. Like ya know, dealing with tattoo pains. We all do our own part, eh?

 

Pranayama

So a quick recap on pranayama. That’s the thing you do (or try to do) during your weekly yoga classes right;

Controlled breath in. Controlled breath out. Hold for 6 counts. In… out… 

In…. out….

Stretch out your breaths, until the thoughts ease off from your mind. Your heart slows. Your muscles relax. Time unwinds, consciousness eases, softens and fades off into the background.

Going to go catch some samadhi’s. [2]

In yogic practice, breath represents (or ontologically supervenes on) prana (lifeforce). Regulation of the breath entails regulation of your lifeforce. When I stretch out my breathing, I draw out my life force. As I harmonize my breathing, I clear up my vital energies, and prepare my mind-body to transition into the next stage of heightened consciousness.

Pranayama brings about pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses and an inward turn of consciousness). Pratyahara further facilitates progression towards dharana, dhyana, and the superconscious samadhi. 

Now, I’d love as much as anyone to reach this samadhic enlightenment. But a dude’s still gotta navigate all the toil and toil and tribulations of samsara, ya know? Eventual self-actualization defo stays in the books, but I’ve a scheduled needling appointment soon, and I’d really like all the help I can get for that next marathon session coming up.

 

Pranayama and Pain Management

I think anyone who has gone for one of those hardcore Yin Yoga classes can immediately relate to the pain-management benefits of controlled breathing during a long drawn out and particularly excruciating frog, lizard or king pigeon pose. Fold deeper, keep breathing. Push deeper on each exhalation, breath into those knots and tight areas. Fold deeper. A bit more. A bit more And then the insane bastard actually comes over and pushes you balls deep into the stretch, into that white abyss of pain. Gotta love those Yin classes.

Don’t let that smile fool you. This here is the true face of pain. [3]

Going to geek out a little bit here on the physio-neurological basis for the efficacy of pranayama on pain management. For those not entirely turned on by latin gobbledygook, skip straight ahead to the next pretty picture below.

For the rest of you intellectual types; regulated breathing leverages the bidirectional affect between (para-)/sympathetic state activation and directive electric signals originating from the central nervous system (“CNS”). Conscious activation of segments of the overall (para-)/sympathetic response (i.e. the slow, deep breathing part of an overall relaxed state) in turn triggers the unconscious sensory neurons transmitting parasympathetic activation back up the CNS into the brain, who then plays catch up by transmitting further motor signals down the spine out the rest of your peripheral nervous system. Upregulation of the parasympathetic (relaxed muscles, slow breathing, steady heartbeat) state opposes the rival sympathetic state activation (fight or flight; erratic heartbeats, cold sweats, jitters, pain sensitivity, tensed up muscles). By a parallel and identical process, similar activation towards the sympathetic state can be achieved through conscious exercise of rapid forceful breathing (e.g. kapalbhati), which transmits back up to the CNS, back down to the sympathetic nervous system as so.

I picked most of this from wikipedia by the way, so I know what I’m talking about.

Now there’s a good bit of research attempting to close the final leg from (para-)/sympathetic state activation and pain sensitivity. The interface between subjective mental experiences (the feeling of pain) and neuro-physiological body states has always been a bit tricky to bridge. Observed behavioral responses and subjective reporting of pain would to be sure show some difference when obtained from a sympathetically activated individual or a para-sympathetically inclined one. It’s one thing to observe behavioral responses, and another to conclude that the pain was experienced mentally, internally as more painful; am I just overreacting, or am I really feeling more pain? 

Nevertheless, I’ll just throw out here the bits we wanted to hear; the experimental controlled trigger of pain and its association with activation of the sympathetic nervous system. [4] Pranayama and its promising use in patients with pain related pathologies. [5]

Tattoo Pain Chart [6]

But anywho, some personal n=1 experience has informed me that that long, deep breathing REALLY helps during the particularly wee sensitive bits in the ink session; Nice long slow breaths in the green. Some REALLY HEAVY DEEP BREATHS as we move on to the red. Take a 5 minute breather to help clear your mind, then that existential dread again and that moment of panic right as the needle homes into your skin…!!!!!!!…!!…haaaaaa…… Oohh yer fluffin beautie.

Granted there are probably even more niche areas for controlled breath applications out there. Like getting a covid/flu jab. Like when going for a foot massage. Or going to the dentist. Don’t know anything about those, I’m trying to write for the everyman here.

Calm mind through long slow breaths. Reversal of cause and effect. A real wonder of science, that pranayama.

 

Takeaways

– Slow, controlled breathing makes me less of a fidgety beech during tattoo sessions. 

– There’s a bit of science backing the idea that pranayama can help with pain (or at least its management)

– Bit of pranayama would probably help with my spiritual side too, enlightenment and all.

 

Will end off with a bit of #inkspiration, because dayum, some of these pins look mighty fine. 

 

One day, I too will be able to be like that. [7]

 

[1]: https://thetattooedbuddha.com/2016/09/04/the-tattooed-yoga-project-building-community-through-art/ 

[2]: https://www.indiadivine.org/prana-and-pranayama/ 

[3]: https://www.surfertoday.com/surfing/how-to-do-frog-pose

[4]: Neuroanatomy, Parasympathetic Nervous System, Jacob Tindle; Prasanna Tadi.[2020]

[5]: Yoga: Can It Be Integrated with Treatment of Neuropathic Pain, Telles S. · Sayal N. · Nacht C. · Chopra A. · Patel K. · Wnuk A. · Dalvi P. · Bhatia K. · Miranpuri G. · Anand A. [2017]

[6]: https://www.facebook.com/rxtattoomd/posts/tattoo-pain-chart/453490595301962/ 

[7]: https://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1617350

 

Stack Up!

Stacking up can mean many things. As an avid reader, I’m usually stacking my pile of books. Stacking simply put is, neatly piling or arranging things in order. At work as a research scientist, I find myself ‘data stacking’ to simplify my datasets and prepare them for further analysis. Stacking the data neatly into one organized column, helps me run many types of specific analyses for further understanding of my research. Needless to say, the order it is stacked in is not interchangeable and gives the data meaning. 

Similarly, in yoga, we stack the bones in our body so it can bear our weight in a pose and ensure a good alignment to prevent us from injuries. Specifically, in the shoulder stand, it is vital to ensure the body is stacked ideally for our breath to flow with ease. Stacking into proper skeletal support forms good alignment, minimal muscular effort, and smooth breathing. 

The shoulder stand, “Sarvangasana” is an inverted asana. The inversion stimulates blood pressure sensors in the neck and upper chest, triggering reflexes that calm the brain, slow the heart, and relax the blood vessels. It is a pose that comes naturally to me – a reason why I also enjoy it so much. But it is precisely why I lacked the technical anatomical and muscular knowledge of the pose.

This is how I come into the shoulder stand: I begin with lying flat on my back, with my arms by side. First I bend my knees and on an exhale, bring my knees to my face. With this momentum, I lift my hips and back up, with my hands supporting the lower back. Ensuring my elbows are grounded and tucked in, I push up my hips such that they are in line from feet to shoulders. My neck is engaged in a chin bandha, and my shoulder blades are pulled into the upper back. This movement creates space between the chin and the chest. Once I attain the balance and alignment required, I feel tranquil, to say the least – perhaps an indication that I successfully stacked, requiring minimal effort in muscles and breath. 

Dissecting the shoulder stand more technically: To lift your body up against gravity, it is vital to tighten the erector spinae in the back and the posterior deltoids in your shoulders. Flexibility in the chest and shoulder helps straighten the body vertically up, with the elbows and backs of your arms push firmly against the ground to provide support. For your arms to come into the supportive sweet spot, it requires flexibility in the pectoralis major muscle and the anterior part of the deltoid muscle. When the left and right pectoralis major muscles contract, they assist in flexing your arms forward, adducting them together in front of you, and then internally rotating them toward one another; all this action is happening behind you in your shoulder stand. The anterior part of the deltoid muscle assists in extending the shoulders to reach your arm behind your shoulders and firmly grounding your elbows.

By understanding the inner workings, it explains why attaining each alignment in the pose is important. It also allows me to help those who are unable to come into this pose, by stretching out and working on the flexibility of certain muscle groups; which in this case are the pecs and frontal deltoids!

Chaturanga dandasana: Simple but challenging

Chaturanga dandasana is an often practiced but frequently under-appreciated asana in yoga.

In my own experience, I had been practicing yoga for several years before I had a teacher spend time in class to break down the pose and explain all the parts that go into getting it right. Before that, I honestly hadn’t given this asana much thought –especially when I was rushing through ‘the vinyasa’ and on to urdva mukha svanasana (upward dog).

That said, once I realized all the actions that must come together to execute a chaturanga, and its many benefits, it became hard not to appreciate.

Chaturanga dandasana literally translates as the “four-limbed staff pose”, which is an apt description of the pose and its desired alignment.

chatur = four
anga = limb
danda = staff
asana = pose

Although simple in form, the asana is ideal for building functional strength. In addition to strengthening the abdominals, chaturanga strengthens the erector spinae – the set of muscles that run the length of the spine and are key to straightening and extending the spine. These muscles are often overlooked as they’re not seen as a major muscle group, like the biceps, chest and shoulders; however, they are just as important for strength and more so for stability –promoting improved body alignment.

Here’s a breakdown on chaturanga dandasana:

Coming into the pose from santolasana (high plank), you shift forward, bringing the shoulders slightly beyond the wrists and at the same time push up from the balls of the feet to the toes, the ankles dorsiflexed. The scapulae are depressed and protracted.

Bending at the elbows, you continue to shift forward, lowering the torso down while keeping the elbows generally aligned with the wrists and stopping before the shoulders fall below elbow height (i.e., not going past a 90-degree angle). The torso and legs stay a few inches above and parallel to the floor.

Stability of the scapulae is key to allowing for proper shoulder joint function in chaturanga. The serratus anterior muscles are the principle muscles that stabilize the scapulae and prevent them from “winging”. The rhomboids and middle trapezius further stabilize the scapulae by drawing them towards the midline of the spine.

Like the name of the pose implies, in chaturanga the body should be in one straight line –from head to feet. To prevent the shoulders from dipping too far down towards the floor, the triceps and pectoralis muscles eccentrically contract, resisting the pull of gravity. To avoid the midsection from swaying to the ground, the rectus abdominis and psoas must be engaged. The alignment of the pelvis is counter-balanced and kept neutral by engaging the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles. The erector spinae muscles and quadratus lumborum work to lift the back. The quadriceps muscles and adductor magnus are also actively engaged to straighten the knees and slightly draw the legs towards each other.

In keeping the muscles throughout the body actively engaged, the weight of the body is more evenly distributed, avoiding excessive pressure on the arms and shoulders.

The end result is a simple but challenging asana that is generally accessible to most yogis to incorporate into their practice.

Ah, the almighty backbend

Upward Bow Pose – Urdhva Dhanurasana

I still remember the first time I was introduced to upward bow pose during my Ashtanga Yoga class last year. Lying on my back, I tried to figure out the pose by observing other students. All of a sudden, the young lady next to me swiftly pressed herself all the way up and stayed firmly in the pose. The way she powerfully rose up and held the pose like a majestic mountain left me with astonishment until today. What a beautiful pose with the perfect curve of a bow shape! If you ask me what is one pose that embodies strength and flexibility, this is the pose.

Benefits of upward bow pose

As a deep backbend and chest opening practice, upward bow pose, or commonly known as wheel pose, is helpful to improve our overall health in modern life. With long hours spent sitting at the desk for work or study, we tend to lean the body forward, drop the shoulders and hunch the back. This can lead to undesired consequences such as bad posture, muscle tension, back pain and restricted breathing. While the good practice is to keep your self-awareness in maintaining a good body posture, practising backbend to stretch the spine in opposite direction proves to be a good way to counteract the hunched or slouched body posture. Not only upward bow pose can improve spinal mobility, it also strengthens the arms, shoulders, abdomen and legs. You can also benefit from the energy boost by practising this pose. Spiritually, by opening the chest, upward bow pose can help to activate heart chakra which serves as our center of love, compassion, empathy and forgiveness.

Anatomical movement and muscles involved

  • Hip extension and adduction
    – Stretch all the muscles in the front side of the body by eccentric contraction (i.e. lengthening) of rectus abdominis, iliopsoas and quadriceps
    – Strengthen all the muscles in the back side of the body by concentric contraction (i.e. shortening) of erector spinae, quadratus lumborum and hamstrings
    – Concentric contraction of magnus, one of the inner thigh muscles
  • Shoulder external rotation
    – Concentric contraction of infraspinatus and teres minor (Note: Tightness of subscapularis can limit this movement)
    – Eccentric contraction of latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major
  • Posterior pelvic tilt

How to get into the pose?

  1. Begin by lying on your back. Bend your knees perpendicular to the floor. Make sure feet are parallel and hip width apart. Bend your elbows and place your palms on the floor next to the ears with elbows pointing up.
  2. Press your feet into the floor and lift your hips up. Keep your thighs and feet parallel. Then, firmly press the hands into the floor and lift your shoulders up, leaving the crown of your head on the floor. Keep your arms parallel.
  3. Press your feet and hands into the floor. Lift your head up off the floor and straighten the arms. Gaze at your nose tip or in between the eyebrows. Stay in the pose for 5 breaths.
  4. To exit the pose, bend you elbows and tuck your chin into your chest. Slowly lower down your body. Follow up with a counterpose such as hugging knees to chest or seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana).

Tips 

  • Splaying knees and feet to the side will compress the lower back. To keep your knees and feet parallel and hip width apart, try squeezing a block between your thighs or pressing your feet against a block placed between them.
  • Engage your core muscles by lengthening rectus abdominis to create airbag for the protection of lumbar spine. This avoids hyperextension of the lumbar spine in backbend.
  • Aim to open your upper back more. Draw your chest towards the wall behind you. This allows the arms to carry more body weight to allow a leg to lift in one legged wheel pose.
  • Practise wheel walks to build the strength and learn to transfer the weight into one leg then the other.

Up for a challenge?

Here are a few options to advance and deepen the pose:

  • One legged wheel pose
  • Forearm wheel pose
  • Transitioning from wild thing to wheel pose
  • Transitioning from standing to wheel pose and the other way round by walking your hands down or up a wall behind you

Safety precautions

Practise upward bow pose at the end of yoga practice when you have sufficiently warmed up your body and opened your muscles.

Do not practise this pose if you have

  1. Injury with knees, wrists, shoulders, neck, or back
  2. Heart problems
  3. High or low blood pressure

My journey with upward bow pose

Although the pose may look intimidating for a complete beginner, I started to enjoy practising backbend after a few rounds of practice. Not only upward bow pose reminds me of the strength I have within myself, I can feel the beneficial effects of back bending and chest opening shortly after practising this pose. I am able to naturally come to a good body posture with open chest each time after practising this pose. This is much appreciated by someone like me who is so used to being in hunched or slouched body posture. The good effects stay beyond the physical body. Mentally, I feel happier and with the chest opened, I feel my heart is opened as well. I feel like letting everything come and go freely. Like the big sky, every cloud is free to come and go. The sky is big enough to accommodate anything that comes, but in the meantime, the sky is willing to let each of them go when they are ready.

As for my experience of practising this pose, I had trouble with keeping my knees and feet parallel before. As much as I reminded myself not to splay the knees and feet, I tended to point them out when I was lifting myself up off the floor. I only realized my problem after having looked at the photos and videos of myself doing this pose. I would suggest students to identify any possible misalignments in your pose by taking a picture or video of yourself in this pose from different angles. From the diagonal top-down view, you can clearly see if your feet and hands are parallel and in line with each other. From the side view, you can see if your shins are perpendicular to the floor and whether you need to straighten your arms more and push your chest forward more. From the diagonal bottom view, this is how you will be amazed at the almighty backbend standing tall like a mountain.

Remember, flexibility comes with consistent practice. 

 

With love,
Wei Li

Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

What is Urdhva Hastasana? 

It is literally translated to “Raise Hands Pose” aka “Upward Salute”. At time, it can be called Talasana (Palm Tree Pose) or Utthita Hasta in Tadasana (Mountain Pose with Arms).

To me, it is Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with both arms raise to the ceiling and palms together. It may sound like a simple pose but have you thought of the muscles you are engaging and how it benefits your well-being.

Benefit of Urdhva Hastasana

  • Reduces fatigue, anxiety and stress
  • Relieves back pain and sciatica
  • Realigns of posture when standing
  • Improves digestion and better bowel movement by compressing your digestive tract during stretching
  • Lubricates your joints better & healthier from the full body stretch (side of the body, spine, shoulders, armpits and abdomen)
  • Improve chest congestion by creating space in the lungs & chest during the stretch

How to move into Urdhva Hastasana

  1. Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides. Press your weight evenly across the balls and arches of your feet.
  2. As you inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and then up toward the sky. Both palms and fingers face each other, coming into prayer over your head. Straighten your arms completely, but do not lock the elbow joints.
  3. With an exhale, release your shoulders away from your ears to open the chest. Draw your front ribs in, toward your spine, and lengthen your tailbone toward the ground.
  4. Tilt your head back gently and gaze up at your thumbs.
  5. Hold the pose for up to one minute or 5 – 10 breathes. Breathe smoothly and it should be moving across the entire body. Lift up through the sides of your waist as you inhale. Soften your shoulders as you exhale.
  6. To release, exhale and sweep the arms back down to the sides of the body.

*Tips for beginner- You can practise the pose backed up against a wall. There will be a slight curve in your lower back but make sure your heels, buttocks, and shoulders touch the wall. Keep your head away from the wall, with your ears in line with your shoulders.

What muscles are you engaging?

Trunk

  • Erector spinae together with the muscles at the back helps to lift the spine and hold you upright.
  • Abdominal muscles together with the back muscle helps to support and balance the torso which draws the rib cage downward.

Shoulders and Arms

  • Lower trapezius depresses the shoulder downward.
  • Middle trapezius and rhomboids draw the shoulder blades towards the spine which helps to open up the chest.
  • Upper trapezius (back) and anterior deltoids (front shoulder) lifts the arm up to the ceiling.
  • Triceps straighten the elbows.

Pelvis and Legs

  • Psoas (front of the pelvis) flexes the thigh and glutei (buttock muscles) makes the thigh lengthen. The two muscles balance each other.
  • Muscle of the pelvic diaphragm are active to create Mula Bandha and tone the organs of the pelvis.
  • Quadriceps are shortened to straighten the knees.
  • Gastrocnemius balances the ankles on the feet.
  • Muscles on the top and bottom of the feet balance each other to ground the pose firmly.

My thoughts & experience of Urdhva Hastasana…

Urdhva Hastasna is a beginner standing pose involving shoulders, spine, knees and obliques muscle. When I practise and hold this pose after long desk-sitting time, I feel the stretch of my legs and elongate of my vertebra. This helps to relieve my stress, anxiety & back ache of long sitting. Not forgetting, it also improves digestion & bowel movements.

I feel the healing spiritually as it secures a connection with mother earth & allows free flow of energy. With that connection, it prepares me to move into other standing poses or deeper stretches/twists such as Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bending Pose), Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Utkatasana (Chair Pose), Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) etc with confidence and steadiness.

Try it and feel the power of this standing pose.

 

Namaste

Ivy Ng (July-2021)

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) – Simple pose but not that simple (at least for me)

When I came back to practice yoga in 2014 (after my first trial in 2009 and thought yoga is probably not for me), I only went for hot yoga. The reason was so simple – I didn’t feel good doing Downward facing dog! I felt very uncomfortable holding the pose and I didn’t know that I totally did it wrong. In fact, I just understand the correct alignment and do it better at Tirisula and especially during Yoga Teacher Training. With the correct weight distribution and alignment, I don’t feel bad holding the pose anymore!

How to get to the pose:

  • Hands shoulder-width apart, spread fingers wide.
  • Feet hip-width apart, toes point forward
  • Microbend the elbows
  • Relax the neck
  • Draw shoulders down along the spine. Shoulders are away from ears
  • Engage the lower belly and draw the navel back to the spine. Lengthen the spine.
  • *Squeeze and Lift the hips up to make the body as an upside down V shape* To me, this helps a lot to distribute the weight equally between hands and feet and this technique helps me to hold longer in the pose and can be rest in the pose.
  • Place the heels down on the mat
  • Gaze towards the navel

Terms of movement

  • Scapula depression
  • Arms flexion
  • Hips flexion
  • Ankle dorsi flexion
  • Torso extension
  • Knee extension

Muscles used for Downward Facing Dog

  • Stretch Gluteus Maximus
  • Stretch Latissimus Dorsi
  • Contract Abdominals
  • Stretch Pectoralis major
  • Contract Triceps
  • Contract Quadriceps
  • Stretch Hamstrings
  • Stretch Gastrocnemius and soleus
  • Contract Tibialis anterior

I hope my experience of getting into downward facing dog can be useful to someone. Enjoy the pose!

The widely known pose that can change your body.

Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This pose is widely recognized and it stretches and strengthens your ENTIRE body.

It seems like an easy pose, but not for me. Having tight hamstrings, I did not enjoy this pose at all. Since there are so many benefits to this pose, this must be integrated to my yoga practice. 
I’m happy to achieve better results with much practice and endurance!

 

Physical Benefits:

  • Strengthens the upper body (shoulders, arms, abdominal muscles).
  • Stretches the lower body (hamstrings, calves and ankles).
  • Increase blood circulation as your heart is above your body.
  • Improves your posture (opens your chest and shoulders, allowing you to straighten your vertebrae and align your spine).

 

Technique:

  1. Palms underneath the shoulders, knees under the hips on the floor.
  2. Press your palms, tuck your toes, lift your hips,
    straighten your legs to come up into downward facing dog.
  3. Press your heels and palms firmly to the ground, gaze towards the navel.
  4. Keep your head and neck relax, hold for 5 breaths.
    (You can keep your elbows and knees slightly bent)

 

Variation (for those who have injury or other reasons):
Place palms on the chair.

Muscles involved:

  1. Shoulder flexors, pectoralis and deltoids are engaged.
  2. Latissimus dorsi is stretched.
  3. Transversus abdominis and spinal extensors are engaged.
  4. Gluteus maximus are engaged.
  5. Hips flexor is engaged.
  6. Hip extensors and plantar flexors are stretched.
  7. Hamstrings are stretched.
  8. Quadriceps are engaged.
  9. Gastrocnemius, soleus are flexor hallucis longus are stretched.
  10. Ankle dorsiflexors are engaged.

Pigeon pose

The pigeon pose is one of the well liked yoga poses that helps release tension points and improve the mobility and flexibility in the hip joints. This pose requires particularly high mobility in the hip joint. Limited and improper rotation in practice can cause severe damage to the knee joint.

Anatomy to perform pigeon pose

Start on tabletop position and step one leg forward with the knee bend in between your hands. The front knee is bent in the sagittal plane. Take the foot away from the thigh to open the angle while keeping the hips square (pelvis neutral). it creates rotation In the hip and knee joints.

The back leg is straight and the foot is in plantar flexion (untuck toes). Keeping the pelvis in the centre and neutral.

The hands are placed on the floor to the sides of the knee. Maintain in this position and Inhale while the chest opens forward and upward, lifting the sternum, depressing your scapula. During elevation and thoracic extension, the back erector spinae muscle contracts and the iliopsoas muscles of the back legs are stretched.

Exhale and descend slightly with the pelvis in the centre and neutral without slumping to one side.

After a few breaths, bring the hands forward on the floor with palms facing down and rest your forehead between the hands. This movement integrates external rotation in the hip joint and flexion of hip. Muscles such as gluteus medius, piriformis, gluteus minimums, gluteus maximus are stretched and lengthened during this motion.

Students should feel the stretch only at the hip joint. One should get out from the pose immediately if there is any strain at the knee joint. Pressing the legs while applying force into the position is one of the most dangerous things in the pigeon pose and can lead to severe injury in the supporting ligaments of the knee joints. Never force or pressure a students to perform or stay in this position if they feel ache or pain in the knee joint.

In case of knee pain in the pigeon pose. One can try to reduce the angle between the knee and thigh to avoid or reduce rotation. Alternatively one can also increase the flexibility and mobility of the hip joint and hip rotator flexibility. Use a block or a blanket to elevate one side of the pelvis to maintain the pelvis neutral.

Yuj

Yoga, union of body and mind.

The thousands of journey begin with one step’ – Lao Tze. We often learn one or two ancient philosophy quote as we grow up and this particular one influences me the most because I wouldn’t have accomplish many things in my life if I was unwilling from stepping my first step. Too, I wouldn’t have start practicing yoga, struggle to grow stronger, wiser and finally understand practicing yoga is actually a path of self awakening for seeking truth, health and philosophy of life.

I can still recall how uncoordinated I was when I started yoga, back in my 30s. My body was stiffed, hard to bend and even difficult to breathe, at some points. I refused to give up and kept returning to the class because I have started my first step and I need to complete my journey. Gradually, I was able to stretch, bend deeper and hold the pose longer. After a year or two of constant practice, a question appeared on my mind, ‘what is the ultimate goal of all this?’ I spent some times to search for the answer and following that, I realised I need to look into myself. Because of practicing yoga, I have learned to focus, contemplate and change, not only the fitness of the physical, but also the mind and spirits.

The practice of yoga started in India many centuries ago and it was not until later, a rare enlightened master, the sage Patanjali compiled a collection of sutras on the theory for practice by synthesising and organising the traditional knowledge. The collection of sutras was named as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The sutras defined Yoga (Yuj) as union, or to unite. The union of the many selves of our own, physically, mentally and spiritually.  

Further explained in one of Patanjali’s sutras, to release the mind we need to follow the systematic methodology path, the raja yoga (king of yoga), also known as ashtanga yoga (eight limbs of yoga). 

In raja yoga, the first limb is five abstentions or outer observances, Yama. Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-restraint and non-possessive. Second limb, five inner observances, Niyama. Pure, happy, discipline, reflective and devotion. Third limb, the physical posture needed for meditation, Asana. Fourth limb, controlled or suspended breath, Pranayama. Fifth limb, withdrawal of the senses, Pratyahara. Sixth limb, single-pointed concentration, Dharana. Seventh limb, meditation, Dhyana. And the eighth limb, liberation, Samadhi.

By understanding how simple a breath will affect the physical movement, how letting go some of the controls will enhance the balance, and how contemplate, adjust, change and concentrate will unite our inner spirits, we will one day able to liberate our mind and achieve infinite calmness. 

Going Upside Down

We should all turn upside down.

I mean, we should all do inversions for our yoga practice. It doesn’t matter whether you are going into a handstand, headstand, shoulder stand, Pincha or downward facing dog – It is a great addition to your practice for the multitude of benefits it brings. I would like to bring our focus to the headstand aka Salamba Sirsasana in this article. In Sanskrit, salamba means “supported” and sirsa translates as “head”.

Headstand is considered the king of yoga poses. It builds stamina, alleviates insomnia, reduces the occurrence of heart palpitations, helps to cure halitosis, strengthens the lungs, improves the function of the pituitary and pineal glands, increases the haemoglobin content in the blood, relieves the symptoms of colds, coughs and tonsillitis. Additionally, it brings relief from digestive and eliminatory problems when practiced in conjunction with Salamba Sarvangasana. Mentally, as inverting your entire body brings a rejuvenating supply of blood to the brain cells, it enhances clarity of thought, increases your concentration span, and sharpens memory. Consistent practice of this asana widens your spiritual horizons. This asana also helps those who get mentally exhausted easily. (2)

Normally, headstand is practised towards the end of a yoga class and functions to allow energy to flow towards your head, activating our crown chakra. While this advanced pose does require much focus, precision, balance and strength, this asana is essentially meant to be a resting pose. (3)

Getting into a headstand:

Kneel in front of a wall and interlace your fingers. Place your interlaced fingers down on the mat with the palms apart so you create a support for your head and place the crown of your head in your interlaced fingers onto the mat. If you’re unsure where, bring your thumb to your third eye in between your eyebrows and wherever your middle finger lands, that’s where the crown of your head is. Make sure that your elbows are shoulder-width distance apart and that your wrists are perpendicular to the floor. Shoulders should be protracted and rotated upwards. Cradle the back of your head with your hands firmly.

Next, lift your knees off the ground and straighten your legs and your spine. You will be in a modified dolphin pose with your head on the ground. Start to walk your feet as forward towards the body then lift your legs. The goal is to get your hips stacked over your shoulders. This is where hamstring and lower back flexibility comes into the game.

Once you feel stable, lift your legs straight up towards the ceiling. If you feel confident and have done it a few times, lift them both at the same time. Make sure that your body is in one straight line and there is no bent in the hips. (3)

Being in a headstand:

When you stand on your head, the first sensation you will feel is pressure—pressure on the crown of the head, pressure in the arteries and veins, and pressure in the soft tissues of the head and neck. And along with these comes more subtle aspects of pressure—the demand for maintaining your balance and the psychological urge to come out of the posture. These physical and psychological pressures affect every system in the body in one way or another: muscular, skeletal, nervous, endocrine, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urinary, immune, and reproductive. (1)

In headstand no muscle is in an eccentric movement, but every body part is either stabilizing or contracting. Ultimately, your body will be stacked in a single vertical line. Muscles involved in this pose are the trapezius, the rhomboid muscles, rectus abdominus, the levator scapulae, the pectoralis minor, iliopsoas and flexors, and the serratus anterior. It is important to strengthen them through regular practise of asanas and strengthen training. (4)

Contraindications:

Please do not practise this asana if you have high blood pressure, cervical spondylosis, a backache, headache, or migraine. Also, refrained from starting your yoga session with this pose if you have low blood pressure. Perform the asana only once in a session and do not repeat it – seasoned yogis can hold up to 5 minutes. It is best not to practise this asana during menstruation. (2)

 

Let me end this article with a quote:

“Sirshasana is really a blessing and a nectar. Words will fail to adequately describe its beneficial results and effects. In this Asana alone, the brain can draw plenty of Prana and blood. This acts against the force of gravity and draws an abundance of blood from the heart. Memory increases admirably. Lawyers, occultists, and thinkers will highly appreciate this Asana. This leads to natural Pranayama and Samadhi by itself. No other effort is necessary.”

— Swami Sivananda

 

Reference:

  1. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners-Body & Breath Inc (2017) by David H. Coulter
  2. The Path to Holistic Health by B.K.S. Ivengar Yoga
  3. How To Do Headstand – Alignment, Anatomy, Benefits & Preparation by Joschi Monika
  4. Yoga Anatomy-2nd Edition by Leslie Kaminoff