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My Glycanage results (biological age)

Anti aging Breathing techniques

According to an Indian saying: “We come to this life with a set number of breaths. By breathing slower, we live longer.” Whether there is truth to that, I don’t know, but there is definitely sufficient evidence to support that there are breathing techniques with anti-aging effects.

 

In order to determine whether any intervention works we need to first objectively assess our health state. Measuring our biological age should be the first step if we are interested in slowing down or reversing our age. The Glycanage test is my choice of preference. Glycanage measures a series of immune markers, in our bloodstream, reflecting the biological age of our immune system. My most recent results are displayed in the image above.

 

Breathwork consists of 2 pillars, both of which have anti-aging effects: Hypoxia & Hypercapnia. In order to access the therapeutic effects of breathwork one needs to acheive these 2 states. Exercises that involve diaphragmatic or slow breathing, while still useful, are not going to have an effect potent enough to slow down aging.

 

Hypoxia regulates stem cell biology

Under hypoxia – a state where oxygen saturation in the blood is temporarily reduced – the body triggers a domino of processes [ref], often referred to as the diving reflex [ref]. In a nutshell: due to the reduction of oxygen availability, the body adapts by improving its ability to circulate oxygen and deliver it to peripheral organs, including the brain [ref].

Hypoxia Diving Reflex

EPO hormone’s benefits in human physiology are well researched [ref], and positive outcomes have been reported in healthy and chronically ill subjects.

The anti-inflammatory role of EPO hormone Neurotrophic role of EPO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CO2 tolerance is the cornerstone of healthy breathing

While hypoxia will enhance oxygen delivery for a few hours after the practice, hypercapnic training is what will keep your body well oxygenated at all times. There are many exercises that can get you into hypercapnia but ultimately training needs to be tailored to the individuals metabolic, biomechanical and respiratory capacity.

The reason why CO2 training is so improtant is because CO2 works synergistically with O2 in the body (due to the Bohr effect). A key component of CO2 training is to maintain nasal breathing at all times.

The implications of nasal breathing are far reaching, and beyond the scope of this article, but just keep in mind that nasal breathing at night will increase your production of Growth Hormone [ref]. Growth Hormone is used in Hormone Replacement Thrapy (HRT) for its antiaging properties. How useful would it be if you were to increase your Growth Hormone production by changing the way you breathe?

Breathwork's Benefits

Conclusion

Aging is part of life and should be honored similar to all other natural processes. If however, you want to look and feel good as you age, a proactive approach is needed. Anti-aging breathing techniques are part of my protocol keeping myself and my clients young. Please don’t underestimate the need for work, however. Regular practice is needed in order to gain benefits.

 

ps: Breathing techniques that involve hyperventilation (such as the Wim Hof Breathing) should not be considered breathwork or expected to have anti-aging properties.

 

 

References:

Abdollahi, H., Harris, L. J., Zhang, P., McIlhenny, S., Srinivas, V., Tulenko, T., & DiMuzio, P. J. (2011). The role of hypoxia in stem cell differentiation and therapeutics. Journal of Surgical Research165(1), 112-117.

 

Elia, A., Barlow, M. J., Deighton, K., Wilson, O. J., & O’Hara, J. P. (2019). Erythropoietic responses to a series of repeated maximal dynamic and static apnoeas in elite and non-breath-hold divers. European journal of applied physiology119(11), 2557-2565.

 

Kjeld, T., Pott, F. C., & Secher, N. H. (2009). Facial immersion in cold water enhances cerebral blood velocity during breath-hold exercise in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology106(4), 1243-1248.

 

Rey, F., Balsari, A., Giallongo, T., Ottolenghi, S., Di Giulio, A. M., Samaja, M., & Carelli, S. (2019). Erythropoietin as a neuroprotective molecule: an overview of its therapeutic potential in neurodegenerative diseases. ASN neuro11, 1759091419871420.

 

Triana, B. E. G., Ali, A. H., & León, I. G. (2016). Mouth breathing and its relationship to some oral and medical conditions: physiopathological mechanisms involved. Revista Habanera de Ciencias Médicas15(2), 200-212.

How do I start learning inversions?

If you are new to inversions it may feel overwhelming to go upside! If you want to start learning inversions safely, I suggest you read this article fully and start dedicating some time daily to them.

 

I. Start from what you already know

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Dog is for many the 1st inversion they ever practiced. The checklist when practicing downward dog should be:

Hands as wide as the shoulders & feet as wide as the hips
Straight (as much as possible) spine – knees SHOULD be bent if hips & hamstrings are tight to allow for a straight back
External rotation of the shoulders & elevation of the shoulder blades
Heels towards the floor

Performing downward dog always this way will help you build the neuroconnections needed to activate the same muscles in more advanced inversions.

Limiting factors: As downward-facing dog requires some action from muscles in the entire body it is likely the limitation to come from more than 1 muscle or joint. Weakness in the lats, shoulders, and wrists as well as tightness in the hip, hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves can challenge us in performing this pose.

Shoulderstand

Shoulderstand is another commonly practiced inversion accessible to many, prior to headstands and handstands. The goal here is to: Maintain feet – hips – shoulders in one line.

It is worth working towards that provided the neck stays pain-free.

Alignment factors: A well-aligned shoulder stand will require forward flexion from the upper back and abdominal strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

II. Core Strength

Core strength for inversions

In my books core strength involves abdominals, lower & upper back muscles. When it comes to inversions while there is a certain amount of abdominal strength needed this involves primarily inner unit strength as opposed to the outer unit (ie. rectus abdominis – also known as 6-pack). In straight-line inversions, which is the main form most practitioners work towards initially, very little outer unit strength is needed. At the same time relying too much on “core” strength to hold the pose can promote bad habits and poor form.

If I was to choose 1 exercise to :

  • Promote awareness around the pelvis
  • Strengthen the core and
  • save time

that would be the plank between 2 elevated surfaces [Instagram image].

How much shoulder strength do you need in inversions?

Stable shoulders can go a long way toward supporting your inversion practice. The shoulder strength demands of different inversions vary a lot though, with headstands requiring less, handstands more and forearmstand even more.

Let’s look a bit closer into handstands :

While the shoulders will always be in flexion (arms towards the head), ultimately we want to be stable in :

  1. different degrees of flexion
  2. with the shoulders in both eternal and internal rotation

In a handstand press-up (for most people) the shoulders do not come into full flexion. When opening the thoracic part of the spine the shoulders move into flexion beyond 180 degrees. In both cases, we need them stable.

Cold Exposure

The popularity of cold exposure has increased since 2017 in continental Europe, US & Australia through the work of Wim Hof. Whether it is through cryotherapy or cold water immersion more and more people practice and hashtag: #coldexposure. Cold therapy has its roots back in South East Asian yogic traditions and Eastern European-Scandinavian cultures. In this article, I will cover 3 benefits, training with cold offers to those of us living a modern lifestyle.

 

How old is cold therapy?

The moment you ask this question you realize that cold has been accompanying humans from the very start of our existence. As temperatures in nature constantly fluctuate, humans have been exposed to cold: voluntarily or not for a long time.

From a therapy standpoint, cold exposure is listed in “The Edwin Smith Papyrus” dated 3,500 BC (Wang H et al., 2006). In certain parts of the globe (ie. Russia, Bulgaria, and Scandinavian countries) cold training has been part of the culture, practiced in banya or plunge pools, as well as a standard procedure in hospitals to prevent further damage in patients with cardiovascular (Ref) and neurological conditions (Ref).

In recent years Wim Hof (a dutchman Guinness record holder) popularised cold training through his workshops across the globe. It was my training with Wim in 2016 that initiated my journey in cold exposure.

 

1. Cold exposure improves Circulation & Cardiovascular Function

Think of cold exposure as a workout for the circulatory system.

Most people think of cardio when it comes to improving their cardiovascular function. Cold exposure though offers a unique way to strengthen one’s cardiovascular system (CVS).

Our cardiovascular system is surrounded by epithelial muscles which facilitate the circulation of blood. At low temperatures, the epithelial muscles surrounding the veins and arteries of our extremities constrict – preserving the blood and the nutrients carried in it for the more vital organs in the trunk and the head. When the body returns to higher temperatures the epithelial muscles in our extremities dilate again allowing for the blood to flow freely there. In a similar way that our biceps get stronger as they contract during bicep curls (or chaturangas) our cardiovascular system can get stronger through cold exposure.

Good circulation means no athlete’s foot, no cold extremities, better cognitive function, ability to heal/recover faster and perform better in sports.

 

2. Cold exposure as a meditation technique

Those that practice cold water immersions for some time report a sensation of stillness in mind (usually 30 seconds to a minute after the initial exposure). A friend of mine Luke Wills (founder of Ataraxia) said he reached a similar state of mind in his 2nd ice bath, with that on the 7th day of a vipassana meditation retreat. Anecdotal evidence like this was confirmed to be valid in a study published in May 2018 titled “Brain over Body“. In this study participants with no previous experience in cold exposure and Wim Hof, were interchangeably exposed to cold and neutral temperatures. One of the most striking differences between the inexperienced subjects and Wim was the Dutchman’s ability to reduce activity in the insular cortex part of the brain during cold exposure. The insular cortex is an area involved in emotional attachment to external stimuli and self-reflection. Activity in this part of the brain has been shown to be linked with meditation and control of emotional eating.

Meditation is the 5th of the 8 limbs of yoga. Cold exposure is one of the many ways to enter into a state of meditation.

 

3. Cold exposure helps us overcome fears

Cold exposure is demanding on many levels:

• the adrenal glands

• musculoskeletal system

• circulation and

• the brown fat tissue is activated at low temperatures.

Aside though the multiple biochemical adaptations in the rest of the body:

our brain changes through cold exposure.

The initial response is that of: “fight or flight”. A small area of the brain called the amygdala (Greek word for almond) – activates the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis – signaling a stress response to the rest of the body. While this initial stage is universal the way one deals with cold thereafter depends on his/her experience and ability to use her breath.

By training the body to deal with a stressful situation (ie. a cold immersion) in a controlled environment (such as a shower or a bath) we can reprogram our mind to deal with stressful situations which are out of our control. Our main tool is our breath. Dealing with fear was the focus of a workshop I gave in 2017 to a group of actors.

 

Additional reasons

The list above is not exhaustive of the benefits one can get from cold exposure.

• Controlling pain perception [Ref]
• Generation of Brown Fat [Ref]
• Strengthening of the immune system [Ref]
• Improved tolerance to cold [Ref]

are also good reasons for modern “over-civilised” humans to train with cold.

 

3D approach to Breathing Biomechanics

The Biomechanics of Breathing

The biomechanics of breathing involve the function of all the primary and secondary respiratory muscles that are involved in respiration. These can be grouped into the respiratory tract, respiratory support muscles, the abdominal muscles.

3D approach to Breathing Biomechanics

The respiratory tract

Yoga practices can affect the function of both upper and lower airways. Neti kriya, a cleansing technique, allows the bathing of the nasal passage. Ujjayi breathing can reduce dead space in the lungs and increase this way, the surface of oxygen diffusion to the bloodstream. While many asanas facilitate the delivery of air in one part of the lungs by restricting it in another, allowing this way the utilization of the entire organ. Finally, the diaphragm which seats at the bottom of the lungs can also get stronger through breathing exercises and/or asanas.

 

The supportive muscles

Muscles, fascia, and neurons all play an active role in supporting our respiratory function. While these tissues, cells and organs are not always classified as “respiratory”, failure of their function means compromised breathing.

 

Supportive muscles above the rib cage

Scalenes and sternocleidomastoid are 2 pairs of muscles sitting on either side of our neck. Their recruitment is often considered synonymous with upper chest breathing. It is my observation that when these muscles, alongside the trapezius, are tight there is zero movement possible in the upper chest and upper back, limiting this way the expansion of the lungs in this area.

 

Supportive muscles below the rib cage

Psoas and quadratus lumborum are 2 pairs of muscles on either side of the spine that attach posteriorly to the diaphragm. Having reviewed 1,000s of papers I am yet to see these 2 muscles mentioned in publications as respiratory or secondary respiratory muscles. There are 2 reasons why I think their structure and function are pivotal in breathing:

  1. As they both attach to the diaphragm, when they are tight, weak, or uneven (between the left and right side) they will restrict the way the diaphragm moves.
  2. Both muscles play an important role in our posture. A compromised posture will most likely cause restrictions in our breathing.   

 

Our posture

This is an area of the respiratory function that often does not get much attention. Think for a second of an old man bearing more weight on one foot, maybe having one shoulder higher than the other. Or a woman with pronounced scoliosis. How would these postural asymmetries affect the ideal symmetrical movement of the rib cage and diaphragm? Or someone with pronounced thoracic kyphosis. Do you see how the movement of his diaphragm will be restricted (ref)?

 

Diaphragmatic restriction due to kyphosis

Conclusion

It is my belief that yoga can improve the biomechanics of breath in most elements of this Venn diagram and it’s for that reason a lot of yoga practitioners with respiratory problems have benefited from practicing yoga without paying much attention to the volume of air they breathe which determines the biochemistry of respiration. At the same time, the benefits are amplified when someone pays equal attention to both qualities of breathing (ie. biomechanics & biochemistry).

 

Buteyko vs Yoga breathing

Buteyko vs Yoga Breathing

Both Buteyko and Yoga breathing techniques have benefited the health of many individuals and especially respiratory problems (ie. bronchitis & asthma). To the novice, the two systems may seem to contradict but I would argue there are more similarities and synergies between them.

 

While Pranayama is a component of the yoga tradition, which also consists of meditation and physical postures, Buteyko is a system solely focusing on breath training.

*ref

Pranayama vs Buteyko Breathing

So far there has been only one study from the University of Nottingham that compared the 2 systems (ref). The study was conducted among 90 individuals (69 of which completed the study) that suffered from asthma and were on corticosteroid medication. At the end of the study, which run for 6 months, the Buteyko group showed improvement in both symptoms and a reduction in bronchodilator use.

 

Buteyko vs Pranayama Corticosteroid Buteyko vs Pranayama symptoms

How do pranayama techniques compare with Buteyko breathing?

Pranayama techniques, primarily due to the lack of one reliable source, are practiced in different ways. A few practitioners use “Light on Pranayama” BKS Iyengar as a reference. Most exercises can be performed in an easier or more challenging way by modifying the duration of the volume of breath. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain how this can be achieved but to help you grasp the concept think of box breathing:

Version A:  Inhale for 2 sec, Hold for 2sec, Exhale for 2sec, Hold for 2sec. Perform x5 rounds.

Version B:  Inhale for 20 sec, Hold for 20sec, Exhale for 20sec, Hold for 20sec. Perform x10 rounds, while keeping the volume of air inhaled & exhaled low.

While most pranayama techniques are (unfortunately) instructed without much reference to the volume of air, by the time the duration of each cycle increases minute ventilation will unavoidably reduce. Reduction in minute ventilation is at the heart of the Buteyko Method which aims to prevent individuals from chronic and acute hyperventilation.

In the table below you can see a list of pranayama exercises. Those with a sign 〰️ can lead to hypercapnia, while the ones with an ❌ are likely to cause hypocapnia.

Hypercapnia is a key element of Buteyko training.

One of the hallmarks of yoga is Ujjayi breathing which often (and correctly in my option) it’s suggested to be performed at all times during asana. Given the different ways that ujjayi breath is practiced, it may appear to be diametrically opposite to Buteyko breathing or very much in-line.

Ujjayi breath is characterized by a sound during the exhalation caused by the constriction of the throat. The sound, for some unknown to me reason, is sometimes exaggerated making the breath loud. In my opinion, ujjayi should be performed as follows:

Both the inhalation and the exhalation take place through the nose with the tongue at the top of the pallet. The inhalation is soft. During the exhalation, the back of the throat gently constricts allowing the elongation of the exhalation further than normal. The exhalation to inhalation ratio is 2:1 or much higher. The breath is quiet.

When practiced like this, the ujjayi breath will lead to hypercapnia and thus cause an increase in body temperature, similar to all hypercapnic breathing exercises.

 

How to incorporate Buteyko in yoga?

To the extent that you want to support the oxygenation of your brain 🧠 and peripheral organs during your physical practice, you would benefit by breathing light from start to finish. Breathing this way is likely to cause a sense of air hunger, especially in classes where the pace is fast.

 

You can also incorporate hypoxic breathing in your practice depending on your level of experience and breathing capacity. It is always important to account for the challenges asanas cause to the breath during yoga.

 

The role of Control Pause in Yoga

Buteyko practitioners, like myself, like to use the Control Pause (CP) test as an approximation of clients’ respiratory capacity. CP can also be performed at the start of a yoga practice. Below is a list of factors that need to be considered:

• CP will tend to be lower later in the day

• CP will be affected by fluctuations in hormone levels. That is likely to be more pronounced in women.

• If the practitioner is seating on the floor (as opposed to a chair), limitations in his posture is likely to affect the CP negatively.

One vs Two Arm Handstand

One vs Two Arm Handstand

While the one & two arm handstand may seem a world apart there are some similarities as well as some big differences between the 2. In this article, I will cover where the training for 1 and 2-arm handstand overlaps and why 1-arm handstand is a different ball game.

Why OAH is no different to a regular Handstand?

1 YOU ARE FIGHTING GRAVITY

The easiest way to stay up is to maintain your center of mass above your base (ie. your hands). With your base being approximately 70% smaller in OAH (One Arm Handstand) the center of mass has to stay within a tighter range but the principle remains the same.

2 MOVING SLOWLY HELPS

Standing on your hands is not natural. Doing something unnatural fast (initially at least) will cause a mess. It might seem counterintuitive to slow down something you cannot do yet but trust me, it will accelerate the learning process.

3 BALANCE IS ALWAYS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK

Nerves, lack of proprioception, and unnecessary body tension will get in the way preventing you from making the necessary adjustments and staying in balance. Try minimizing any adjustments you think you need to half. More often than not you will surprise yourself with how close balance was. 

4 CONCENTRATION IS OFTEN UNDERESTIMATED

Staying focused on the alignment or on recovering balance or sustaining a soft breath will often determine if you stay up or fall. But even once you have come out of a handstand, you can stay focused on what you can take away from your last attempt. Each attempt is an opportunity to learn. Naturally, we pay attention to our successes but from which ones can we learn more: the successes or the fails?

5 LOUSY APPROACH = LOUSY RESULTS

Having the appropriate consistency & intensity in the training will bring the wanted result. For a long time handstands were an unsolvable 🔮 puzzle 🧩 in my mind 🧠. It’s not. Looking back when I was not progressing was because my training was messy whether I was training for a 2-arm or a 1-arm handstand.

6 SHOW ME A HANDSTANDER AND I WILL SHOW YOU A PATIENT MAN

Handstands will:

🤔 possibly change your posture

👍🏻 very likely help you understand your body. Whatever patterns you have standing will get exaggerated x10 upside down

🫣 make you more patient.

I used to be frustrated, thinking of training days as good and bad. There are no good or bad training days. There are intense and easy, technical and endurance-focused, those that we learn what we are capable of by achieving things we didn’t expect or realizing our limitations. Coming to terms with this will help you enjoy the process; one vs two arm handstand makes no difference.

7 BALANCE STARTS AT THE END OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

If you ever hear that handstands are easy this man (or woman) either learned a long time ago and forgot the struggle or never really learned. There is nothing comfortable about handstands, especially in the learning phase. If you are starting out now you may think that once you learn how to stand on 2 hands it’s going to be a walk in the park thereafter 🤔, think twice 😆.

Once you get into the habit of training on the edge of your comfort zone you will start seeing consistent progress.

Why a OAH is a different animal than a 2 arm handstand?

Frequency & intensity need to match the expertise

At the start of one’s handstand journey, x3-5 40min sessions a week may be sufficient to progress. After a while, 1 hour of practice daily or more is needed. Apart from the frequency though, the intensity needs also to change over time. 2-4 minute breaks are ok while training for 2 arm handstands. In OAH the breaks need to be shorter.

In how many ways can you fall?

Balance in a 2 arm handstand may seem fragile at times but ultimately you can fall forward or backward. In a OAH you can also fall sideways. This fact on its own will increase the demands on:

• the hand adjustments

• the shoulder corrections

• compensations due to body asymmetries

Conclusion

Handstands are tones of fun to practice and all the challenges we face in the process just make the journey more worth taking. Whether you are starting out now or have a few years of training under your belt, take it as a given: there will always be more things to learn. What you have learned so far is the foundation on which you will build on. Just stay away from the handstand myths.