Kapalabhati…. A shining forehead!

Kapalabhati is a highly energizing abdominal breathing exercise in which every tissue in the body is stimulated. When practised on a regular basis the face shines with good health and radiance due to the cleansing effect on the entire body. As one of the six kriyas (yogic cleansing practices), kapalabhati  helps rid the body of waste materials allowing successful pranayama practice to follow.
To good to be true?? Let me explain how this practise influences individual body systems, organs and muscles; then the claim will be validated.

  • Respiratory system – Cleanses the nasal passages, bronchial tubes and lungs. How? In exhalation the abdominal muscles contract inward and upward, this action pushes up the diaphragm towards the thorax and the air is expelled out forcefully. With forceful exhalation the entire system is purified from the alveoli all the way through to the nose. Inhalation then comes very naturally, abdominal muscles are relaxed which in turn descends the diaphragm and the external intercostal muscles contract. This causes an increase in size in the thoracic cavity, the lungs expand, and the air pressure within decreases (in accordance with Boyle’s law). The air outside the body now has greater pressure then that inside the lungs, external air rushes in to supplement. From this we can see that kapalabhati practice can help strengthen intercostal muscles and  increase both the lungs capacity, and it’s efficiency.  
  • Cardiovascular system –  During Kapalabhati we breathe at a significantly higher rate per minute then usual,
    Oxygenation of the red blood cells
    however the depth of the breath is not altered. This increases the rate of blood circulation within the body, oxygen therefore is taken up by the red blood cells at a faster rate.  From here the blood flows through the aorta towards the tissue and cells of the body. The richness of the blood being delivered is heighten due to the system’s ability to eliminate large quantities of carbon dioxide, allowing greater oxygen uptake to each red blood cell.
  • Nervous system– The sympathetic nervous system is initially stimulated when practicing kapalbhati. The brain receives more oxygen, which brings alertness, creativity, refreshment and a feeling of exhilaration. Waste materials or removed, clearing negative thoughts and unusable information.
  • Digestive system – The vigorous muscular contractions during kapalabhati alternately compress and release the abdomen giving it a thorough massage . Individual organs such as the stomach, liver and pancreas are stimulated. This stimulates the digestive system and increases digestion, absorption, peristaltic movement and defecation. The vigorous use of the abdominal muscles has the added benefit of making them stronger, thus improving posture. The strengthening also makes the muscles less likely to bulge outwards which they tend to do when they lose their vitality.
  • Integumentary system – Oxygen rich blood flows through the body at an increased rate, this means all cells will be positively effected. The skin cells are no exception; the more oxygen received by a skin cell; the more efficient it becomes. Skin develops resilience against dryness, dehydration, and excessive sagging.

Indeed it is ‘too good’, but very true! Practice Kapalabhati each morning, 15 pumps for 3 rounds initially; the proper assimilation and excretion will be established. Let the cleansing begin and enjoy a face that shines with good health and radiance!

Anatomy of an Asana: Ushtrasana (Camel pose)

The asana named Ushtrasana means camel and the pose gets its name from the overall shape that the body makes, arching backwards whilst kneeling and holding the ankles. As with any of the astanas each one uses different parts of the body and both excercises them as well as having therapeutic properties. In the case of ushtrasana a lot of stress is on the back, the knees and the neck and so care has to be taken in preparing and carrying out this manouver. Firstly, people with known problems associated with the lower back such as sciatica and lumbar injuries should refrain from doing this unless under careful supervision. Likewise, any injuries to the neck must be considerd before taking this on. Having said that the pose does provide a number of physical benefits and these are:
1. Increasing flexibility of the spine – helping to avoid spinal and spinal nerve conditions through gentle exercise
2. Increasing lung capacity through gentle flexing of the chest muscles – itself helping in conditions related to the lung and the repiratory system
3. Stimulation of the abdominal organs which can help in conditions such as constipation and digestive disorders
4. Generally improving posture associated with the back,  shoulders and the neck
5. It has also been noted to aid in the regulation of the thyroid and hyperthyroid gland in the throat area
6. Improves blood flow to the cerebellum and medulla oblongata
The ushtrasana is an elegant pose and has many benefits as described. However, it should be approached slowly and gently building up from other poses such as Cobra which is a more gentle position but also one that stretches some or all of the joints and muscles associated with the Camel pose.

Asanas for J Lo

Not only J.Lo  has an exaggerated and hyperextended lumbar curve of the spine at the vertebrae L1-L5 ant that is called Lordosis. Lordosis is a condition where the muscles of the abdomen tend to be weak and the hamstrings and lower back muscles have become shortened and has hardened.
To help to strengthen the muscles and soften the tissue you can do the following asanas.
Sitting forward bend, Paschimottanasana, lengthens the muscles of the lower back and it gives a good stretch of the hamstrings – as these muscle groups tend to be short and hard this asana will slowly ease the hard tissue and boost flexibility. Good is to stay for as long as possible in the asana and breath through the stretching.
The Cat, Marjari, is a good asana that strengthens the abdominal muscles in the same time as it stretches out your lumbar and thoracic muscles. It improves the flexibility of the neck, shoulders and the spine.
If I was J Lo I would practice Paschimottasana, Marjari and also add Padangusthasana and the Sasangasana that helps to stretch the hipflexes, and do it on a daily basis!
Lordosis

Why Sirsasana?

Why Sirsasana?
How does inversions like Sirsasana affect our body? For the first time in my life I did head stand, I loved it and I always long to do the head stand because it makes me feel refreshed and it gives med a sort of balance in both my body and mind.
But how does the inversions really affect our body? People use normally around 10% of their alveolas capacity in a normal daily life.  Through activity you can train your alveolas and use a larger amount of them and you train your heart activity. When you do the Sirsasana or any other asana inversion you reduce the heart rate but increase the stroke volume. This increases the capacity of your breath. The stroke volume is measured in litres per hour. When doing an inverted asana like the sirsasana, the volume of blood per minute is increased and the heart size increases and this makes the strokes bigger and stronger to be able to transport the blood throughout your body’s system.  Inverted positions could be compared with an upright standing position, just to give a reference, where the blood pressure decreases which leads to that less blood and oxygen is transported to the brain. When you go upside down to do a head stand you take take shallow long breaths, keep steady, put weight on your elbows and the dristi, gaze, on your nose tip, tight core muscles and strong but relaxed legs.
The inversions not only improves your heart, thanks to the anti gravity inverted asanas can have anti aging effect too. And it helps you balance and stay focused.
The Sirsasana is a perfect asana to improve your oxygen uptake, improve your hearts capacity and to make you feel rejuvenated.
Sirsasana Headstand

Anatomical description of Utthita Trikonasana

The following is a description of the asana Utthita Trikonasana in anatomical language:
 
From the neutral position in the sagittal plane, step the right leg back 90 degrees in the frontal plane (feet around 3 feet apart). Square the hips to the sagittal plane, and externally rotate the right thigh. Retract the scapula and abduct the arms parallel to the floor.
 
Exhale and laterally flex the torso over the right leg in the frontal plane reach down and hold the ankle, big toe or place the palm on the floor outside your right foot (without rotating the hips). Extend the left had towards the ceiling, gaze at the left thumb. Hold for five breaths, and repeat on the opposite side.
 
Precautions: engage the kneecaps and quads, be careful not to hyperextend the knees.
 
The benefits of this pose are that it:
Stretches and lengthens the thighs, knees and ankles
Stretches the hips, groin, hamstrings, and calves, shoulders, chest and spine
Stimulates the abdominal organs
Helps to relieve stress
Improves digestion
Helps to relieve the symptoms of menopause
Relieves backache (especially through the second trimester of pregnancy)
Therapeutic for anxiety, flat feet, infertility, neck pain, osteoporosis and sciatica
 

Yoga and the spine

Recently a friend of mine had major back surgery, and complained to me that his functionality didn’t seem to be improving. I asked if he had been given any basic exercises to help improve his mobility during his recovery and he said he hadn’t. I felt sure yoga could help him improve his condition and recommended as such, since I have been interested in how Yoga can benefit the spine and our overall functionality.
The spine is an essential part of our bodies overall system contributing to our overall stability and structure, housing our spinal cord (which transmits neural signals between the brain and the rest of the body) and provides us with great flexibility and mobility.
As these systems evolved over millions of years and became crucial to our survival, they required the development of a protective structure that allows for free movement, but is stable enough to offer protection to these delicate tissues.
From an engineering perspective the human structure is the least mechanically stable of all creatures, which is where Yoga can help.
There are generally thought to be four possible movements of the spine, flexion, extension, axial rotation (twisting), and lateral flexion (side bending). These four movements occur spontaneously in everyday life, however there are of course yoga postures that emphasize these movements as well.  There is also a fifth possibility of motion called axial extension, however you have to learn to invoke this particular motion intentionally as it is somewhat unnatural.
Studies have shown that those who practice yoga as little as twice a week for eight weeks make significant gains in strength, flexibility and endurance, which is a basic goal for rehabilitation programs for back or neck pain.
Spinal twisting asanas are an important series for spinal health. The twist imposed on the spine and the whole trunk exercises the muscles, makes the whole spinal column more flexible and stimulates the spinal nerves. They also have a strong influence on abdominal muscles, alternately stretching and compressing them as the body twists from one direction to the other.
Forward bending asanas generally speaking are a passive process in which gravity is utilized to stretch and pull the body forwards. These postures help to loosen up the back, maintaining good health and increasing vitality. These types of postures move the body into a position known as the primary curve (or the fetal position taken in the womb). During a forward bend asana each of the vertebrae is separated, stimulating the nerves, improving circulation around the spine and nourishing the spinal cord. This group of asanas is also very important for making the back muscles supple and strong.
Back bending asanas stretch the abdominal muscles, and tone and strengthen the muscles controlling the spine. The spinal nerves, which emerge from the adjoining vertebrae, are decompressed. This has beneficial repercussions throughout the body since these nerves give energy to all the other nerves, organs and muscles within the body. Research has shown that 90% of backache is a result of muscular imbalance. If these balances are prolonged then the vertebral column in misaligned, the ligaments are strained and the symptoms of back pain begin to manifest.  The practice of a balanced regime of forward, back bending and twisting asanas can correct postural defects and address neuro-muscular imbalances in the vertebral system.
In addition the breathing and meditation aspects of yoga include a ‘relaxation response’ that has been found in many studies to assist people in decreasing their pain. Yoga has also been found to be helpful in the treatment of depression and anxiety that often accompany pain problems.