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.
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.
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.
Is ujjayi breathing compatible with the Buteyko method?
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.
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
🤔 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
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.
Our respiratory rate (RR) depends on our age, phase of the menstrual cycle, health state, and heart rate. Having a normal respiratory rate will partially indicate healthy respiratory function but will not be sufficient to identify one’s respiratory capacity.
In this article, you can find out the benefits and limitations of controlling your RR.
Respiration Rate 1.01
How do you check respiration rate?
Respiratory rate is measured at rest. In order for the measurement to be accurate, it is useful to sit in a chair still for a few minutes. One breath will compromise one inhalation, a possible pause, and one exhalation, possibly followed by a second pause.
What is a normal respiratory rate?
Respiratory rate is the number of breaths we take per minute. It’s one of the body’s vital signs, alongside blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. Normal respiratory rate will vary with age.
While 12-20 breaths per minute (bpm) are often used as the normal reference range (ref), it is not necessarily optimal. Optimal breathing is determined by minute ventilation, ie. the total volume of air we inhale per minute. For adults, normal minute ventilation is 6-8.4 L/min. With a tidal volume of 500 to 600mL, if you take 12 bpm your minute ventilation is 6-7.2L/min (500mL x 12 bpm), which is the volume of our lungs. If instead of 12bpm you take 20bpm (at 500mL tidal volume), your minute ventilation is: 10L/min. With that in mind:
optimal respiratory rate range: 8-14bpm
What does respiratory rate indicate?
Respiratory Rate (RR) is one of the body’s vital signs, and as such changes in RR indicate improvement or deterioration in health. The other 5 vital signs are pulse rate, systolic blood pressure, level of consciousness, oxygen saturation, and body temperature.
What increases respiratory rate?
The respiratory rate will increase due to an increase in metabolic demands but also during anxiety, acidosis (referred to as Kussmaul’s respiration), asthma, COPD, dehydration, fever, heart conditions, lung conditions (including lung cancer), an overdose of aspirin or amphetamines. During pregnancy and the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, RR also increases.
What decreases respiratory rate?
The respiratory rate will decrease when we are relaxed but also from alcohol consumption, brain conditions (including strokes and head injuries), consumption of narcotics (ie. marijuana), and sleeping apnea.
Respiration Rate and Breathwork
When you should focus on your respiratory rate?
Performing breathing exercises based on the respiratory rate offers some benefits, especially for beginners. Respiratory rate can:
• be measured independent of the body position
• be monitored by the practitioner as well as an observer
• be easily manipulated
So if you are starting out now with breathwork or have no experience with breath control:
Try to reduce your respiratory rate; it is likely to bring a profound sense of relaxation.
A lot of pranayama exercises, cadence breathing, as well as asana practices, focus on the number of breaths per minute. An exercise I developed to improve your concentration based on the manipulation of the RR is the following:
Why focusing only on respiratory rate will limit your breathing practice?
During most physical exercises (including yoga) you would benefit by reducing the volume of your breath so that it matches your metabolic needs. This is due to the role of CO2 in breathing. In this case, the focus should be on how much you breathe and not how often.
This is also the cornerstone of Buteyko breathing, which advocates reduced breathing aiming to avoid hyperventilation and improve breathing biochemistry. If you are not yet convinced think of the following 4 breathing disorders:
• Bradypnea: breathing abnormally slow.
• Tachypnea: an elevated respiratory rate. Fast breaths that are usually shallow.
• Dyspnea: shortness of breath, that can occur with a high, normal, or low respiratory rate.
• Hyperpnea: breathing deeply and labored.
Only 2 out of 4 problems can be addressed by focusing on the respiratory rate.
Even Cadence breathing can lead to Hyperventilation (ref).
While reducing the number of breaths per minute can be a great starting point, once confident start reducing the volume of air you breathe in order to become a better breather.
The Breathe Right 2-week online course is developed to help you breathe better when you are not conscious of your breath.
Handstand myths raise because of how elusively simple the practice is: hands down, legs up, and how complex it can become, with every muscle having to perform a “special” task. In the effort to achieve a handstand a lot of theories have surfaced and circulated in the training rooms.
The different theories may raise either due to a different background (ie. Gymnastics, Capoeira) or due to insufficient understanding of the subject.
It is safe to say that: the more absolute the claim the more likely it is to be invalid. The flip side of that coin is that: all handstand myths have some validity under certain circumstances. In this article, I am listing 25 claims I have heard either from past teachers or from students of mine. I will group them into 3 categories. Those that:
🔴 will slow you down if you follow*
🟠 make an important point but have to be put into context
🟢 are true but a bit exaggerated
*Whoever came up with these and I see handstand training completely different.
🔴 Handstand Science Fiction
1 Your body’s intuition is your best guide
A handstand is an unnatural thing to do. Our hands are not developed to stand on them. Intuition can be a bad advisor even on things we are meant to do, such as running correctly. I have met some people genetically gifted with better intuition for hardstanding than others, but even in these cases, proprioception needed work.
Should you not listen to your body when hardstanding then?
In handstands, you have to control your body in an unnatural position. Listen to what your body asks you to do but you will find that often you will have to do the exact opposite if you want to stay upside down.
2 You should breathe regularly in a handstand
You will breathe “semi-regularly” in a handstand when you are experienced enough to hold it “effortlessly”. When you are learning how to handstand you should expect your breath to be challenged, similar to most inversions.
Would you expect to breathe regularly if you were to hold your bodyweight overhead on your hands? No. Why you should breathe regularly when you have to do that + balance on your hands (which are smaller than your feet)?
3 It’s best to not overthink it & just do it
This idea usually comes up when practitioners get disheartened or teachers are not able to identify what the fault is. When performing a handstand (especially in the learning phase) one needs to be fully present mentally. Throwing themselves in the air is unlikely to have any benefits because even if they have a successful attempt the lack of awareness will make it hard for it to be replicated.
On the other hand, there comes a time that one needs to commit to an attempt. Staying calm and centered (with the breath being your best friend) will allow you to think of what you need to do while executing it.
4 The entire palm should press on the floor
In a handstand you want to:
a. Balance on a surface as big as possible (which is why spreading your fingers a bit is a good idea)
b. Make this surface as responsive as possible (so you can make the necessary adjustments).
If you press your entire palm on the floor, your fingertips will have very little contact with the floor. The fingertips are:
a. More responsive towards adjusting your balance than the middle of the palm
b. Provide more leverage than the knuckles as they are on the edge of your hand.
By pressing the entire palm on the floor your ability to adjust your balance is reduced significantly. Do you think this is a good idea?
5 Handstanding against the wall & the middle of the room are one & the same
While I doubt anyone ever made such a claim, a few people “buy” into that idea, avoiding training in the middle of the room. Even if you don’t touch the wall, if you handstand near the wall, treating it as a safety net, you have potentially some work to do prior to moving to the middle of the room.
Where you handstand matters… If you don’t believe me try handstanding at the top of the stairs.
6 Try different approaches until you find what works
Each handstand line and each entrance to the handstand require different skills. Trying every time a different approach is equivalent to trying to communicate in a different new foreign language every time you meet a stranger. Even if the languages you attempt to speak are related it will slow the learning process a lot.
In the mind of a beginner: kicking into, cartwheeling into, or jumping into a handstand may look similar. The reality is that each is very different from the other. The proof is that there are individuals that can achieve one but not the rest. I suggest you stick to one approach at a time.
7 It takes years to learn
How fast you will learn depends on many parameters, including how good the instructions you will receive are but also your genetics, background, and commitment,… There are individuals that went from no handstand to one arm in a year. While that is not the average expected time if you limit your expectations chances are you will slow the process.
8 You should not handstand during menstruation
Some women feel weak during these days and are probably better off taking some time off training. At the same time, there are others that may only have to modify their training slightly for a day or two. If you feel well, train, there is no need to take time off.
9 You need to start young
Starting young helps for sure. Is that a requirement though? I start learning at the age of 31. I have students that started much older. After all, we cannot turn back time ⏱.
🟠 Handstand Fairy Tales
10 An alignment-based approach to handstands is the best
The word alignment is thrown around a lot and means different things to different people. Is correct alignment important? Of course. Does it help though, to know the names of the 4 rotator cuff muscles when hardstanding? No. Does it help to have strong rotator cuff muscles? Yes.
It’s of little use knowing what makes up good alignment if you cannot do it. At the same time, too much emphasis on alignment may distract you from balancing, which I think was your goal…
11 It’s not a handstand unless there is perfect stillness
Balance is achieved as a result of many micro corrections. When you first stood upright as a toddler were you perfectly still? Clearly, you didn’t have enough muscle tissue at the time to support your frame but nonetheless, I hope you get my point.
How you want to define a successful handstand is up to you, but to expect your 1st, 30th or 100th 10sec handstand to be in stillness is delusional.
So, stillness doesn’t matter in handstands?
It does. The more still you are the more energy efficient your hold will be. Adjustments cost a lot of energy. Stillness in a handstand comes naturally over time though, as the balancing adjustments become smaller and smaller. When you can hold a 1-minute handstand, chances are your first 15 seconds to be still. If you can hold a sub 20 seconds handstand, … you do the math❗️
12 It’s all in the core
This idea is very popular among those with a gymnastics background and it holds some merit if your goal is to handstand on a trampoline, rings, parallettes 2 meters above the ground, or to use a handstand as a transition to tumble or summersault.
A regular handstand however on the floor will demand a bit more core strength than a headstand (which requires very little core strength). Instead of core strength, what handstands really demand are proprioception and the ability to control one’s midsection and lower extremities.
Is core strength bad for handstands then?
Of course not. Midsection strength is an asset useful in most physical skills. If however, you put all your energy into strengthening your core, you are unlikely to achieve balance in your hands faster.
13 Practice will make perfect
There are practitioners that have been trying to learn how to handstand for 2, 5, and 10 years and they haven’t managed.
Practice makes permanent, not perfect, and bad habits take time to unlearn.
There is no doubt that one needs to put in the hours but it’s equally important:
The drills are appropriate to the practitioner’s level
The intensity and frequency of training are adequate
There is a feedback mechanism for corrections
14 Handstand walks is an advanced skill
Handstand walking requires temporary balance. If you cannot hold your balance for 3 seconds then walking is advanced. If you can hold the balance for a few seconds then you can either work on holding the balance for longer or walk. Each has each own challenges.
15 You need to point your toes
Having active legs will help the body behave as one piece. Pointing the toes will help keep the legs active. While most of the work takes place in the upper body, the observer’s attention mostly focuses on the legs, which is why the feet have a big impact on the aesthetics.
The above are arguments in favor of pointing your toes. It doesn’t mean though that pointed toes is an integral element of handstands.
16 You need to headstand prior to handstanding
Headstand is many times easier than handstand and there is some carryover in terms of proprioception. For that reason, it is not a bad idea to learn how to headstand first. But it’s not a pre-requisite.
You will learn what you are inspired to practice the most. If that’s handstands, practice handstands.
17 You need to forearmstand prior to handstanding
Forearmstand is a different animal than handstand due to the elbows been bent. The flexibility demands in the shoulders are higher in forearm stands as the triceps are more stretched (triceps attach to the elbow and the shoulder joint).
It will not hurt if you know how to forearm stand but it is not a pre-requisite for hardstanding.
18 Handstands are all about strength
Handstands are a skill that demands some strength, a fair amount of flexibility (in the wrists, shoulders, even the hips, and hamstrings), and lots of coordination.
Many subjectively strong people cannot handstand and many subjective weak people can.
19 Everyone can achieve a perfectly straight line
Everyone can practice the principles of a straight line handstand but this doesn’t mean that the line will be necessarily perfectly straight or that he will have an advantage compared to holding a non-straight line.
A strict straight handstand line is:
a. A great learning process,
b. A useful reference point, worth having,
c. Something that once achieved will result in a “tighter” body throughout all handstanding efforts.
a. For anatomical reasons not everyone will be perfectly straight. Think of an African woman with a big bum hardstanding,
b. A straight line is not the most efficient, energy-wise line always to work from.
20 You should not handstand while pregnant
Many women were hardstanding throughout gestation and delivered healthy babies. In most cases, these women knew how to handstand prior to getting pregnant. As the 1st trimester imposes more risks you may want to take a break then but if you feel good while handstanding so does the fetus.
🟢 Handstand Exaggerated #Facts
The only absolute about handstands is that there are no absolutes.
21 You need to keep your body tight to handstand
A tight body will allow you to control your entire structure as one piece. On the other hand, the tightness will:
Cost a lot in energy and
Make you less responsive to corrections in your balance
While a certain level of tightness is needed, I have noticed that what’s more appropriate is to maintain a balance between tightness (so that the body is behaving as one piece) and relaxation (so you can make corrections in your position). Some individuals will tend to be too relaxed and others too stiff.
22 You need to learn to fall out so you feel safe
One of the first drills gymnasts learn is to roll out of a handstand, while yoga & capoeira practitioners (especially the bendy ones) want to backbend out of a handstand.
The more comfortable you are with coming out, the more likely you will be to bale out.
I have students who learned to handstand without practicing any falling-out drills. While such drills serve a purpose, if you become “too good” at them you may stop fighting to stay up.
23 You need strong shoulders to start practicing
Strong shoulders, especially in 180 degrees of flexion, are a massive benefit when hanstanding. It is important however to have the strength at the end range of motion (I repeat: in flexion). If you are missing the flexibility all the strength in the world will not help.
With practice, your flexibility and strength will improve, so don’t be disheartened if you are currently not confident in your shoulders.
24 Those with sensitive wrists cannot handstand
Those with sensitive wrists have to condition their wrists, potentially use parallettes or inclined blocks, and warm-up prior to training. That’s not to say you cannot learn how to handstand. After all most new handstanders will need to go through an adaptation phase during which their wrists will feel a bit soar.
25 First achieve a straight line, then other handstand lines
This is a popular teaching approach with some benefits but not the only approach. A straight line is very challenging to achieve as the center of mass is as high as it gets. As it is a very important line nonetheless, and sooner or later it is worth learning.
A lot of beginners start by trying to achieve a two-arm handstand in a straight line, while most people working on a one-arm handstand learn first in straddle. By learning how to handstand first in an easier line you may accelerate the learning process.
If left untreated a frozen shoulder can result in damage to the neurons, and cartilage, limited mobility in the shoulder and scapula, and pain in the neck, upper back, and arms. To address a frozen shoulder all components of the joint need to be considered.
In this article, I will cover 5 consequences of leaving a frozen shoulder untreated.
Frozen Shoulder can cause dull or acute pain
The pain may be accompanied by a “cracking sound” originating at the back of the shoulder. The pain/discomfort is often exaggerated during movement which may restrict exercise and performing daily movements.
Frozen Shoulders can be linked to neurological damage
Stiff shoulders may be due to or cause a neurological disfunction (ref). There are 5 neurons that feed the shoulder and arm: musculocutaneous, axillary, radial, median, and ulnar nerves. In such cases, unless the recovery of the neurons is supported, the underlying problem will be untreated and subsequently get exaggerated.
Frozen shoulder will cause stiffness
The inability of the shoulder joint to move freely will cause stiffness in the muscles that support it but potentially also in the lower and middle back, neck and wrist. The reason for that can be traced to the compromised function of the fascia.
Frozen shoulder will limit lymphatic drainage
Lymphatic drainage depends on our ability to move. Our extremities are the most mobile parts of our body and their movement results in circulation of the lymphatic fluid, ultimately allowing bacteria and toxins to be excreted from the body. Immobile shoulders may compromise the function of the lymphatic system and thus contribute to the accumulation of toxicity.
Chondrolysis can cause frozen shoulder
Chondrolysis is a rapidly progressive loss of articular cartilage and can be diagnosed with arthroscopy. Chondrolysis is more likely to occur after an operation.
Frozen shoulder can: (a) be caused due to a number of reasons & (b) compromise multiple functions in the body if left untreated. Addressing it early with a protocol that includes: mobility, strength, nerve recovery, and supplementation to support the healing process can prevent further complications.
How much can you expect from yoga in periods of high stress and anxiety?
Yoga is often recommended as a stress relief strategy, but how much can you expect from it and how does it actually work? Let’s explore the benefits yoga can bring to help with stress and anxiety.
What is stress?
Stress is often an umbrella term for situations that are challenging. Of course, not every challenge is bad and I bet that in some areas of your life these stressful situations may even bring euphoria as opposed to negative emotions.
Let’s look at the following examples:
An athlete striving to improve performance and is under stress to exceed previous achievements.
A businessman trying to grow the company and is facing new challenges to help the company grow.
The examples above can be referred to as eustress and the opposite of which is distress often referred to as stress. One of the best definitions of distress/stress I have come across is the inability to adapt to a situation.
There are a few things that can help us deal with this type of scenario:
Understand what the issue is.
Understand how the stressful situation is affecting us (in a negative & positive way).
Receive support/help from our environment in our effort to deal with it.
Build the resilience necessary to endure its consequences.
Can yoga help with any of the above? Can yoga help reduce stress?
How can yoga help you manage stress and anxiety?
🪞 Yoga as a reflective practice
Yoga through all its components: meditation, asana, and pranayama improve our awareness of ourselves and this can be beneficial in managing stress and stressful situations in two ways:
Understanding ourselves will help us understand others (situations/people).
If every time I’m tired and practice yoga asanas (physical postures), I have less patience to hold the posture long enough. This may help me understand why a colleague has short temper later in the day after a series of demanding meetings.
Understanding ourselves will help us see ourselves in others.
If that happens, the stressful individual/situation – can now be seen as part of us as opposed to something foreign.
I might be patient during working hours but, like my colleague, short-tempered with my partner when I’m tired. Whatever we face which triggers us are parts of ourselves that manifest in some areas of our lives.
This aspect of yoga is critical when it comes to dealing with stressful situations. In the process of knowing ourselves, we will come to own all of our parts: some of which are often labeled positives or negatives.
Once I see my colleague’s reaction in me; getting stressed by her response will be the equivalent of getting stressed by myself. This happens all the time with aspects of ourselves we don’t own (we don’t acknowledge as ours). Once we own this quality, like in the example of lack of patience, the situation will no longer be as stressful.
🧠🔗 🫀 Yoga: helping link mind & body – a reality check
Yoga has been credited with helping practitioners merge their minds and body. Though in reality, the mind and the body are inseparable. Here are two examples to help convince you (if you have any doubt)
When you’re in a jolly mood how different is the quality of your skin & hair?
How much is your cycle affected by your emotions?
The problem is that very often the mind & body are disconnected. Partly due to sociological pressure, partly due to the programming we have undergone (both during upbringing & later in life) we often feel obliged to conform to a behavior that might not necessarily serve us. Many people ignore the body’s signals of how to deal with this situation and end up disconnected.
How easy is it to deal with a stressor if you are not in tune with your body? In the most extreme cases – and I have been there myself – we may not even register the stress. I’ve had cases of clients who were convinced they were not affected by stress until they saw a messy 24h saliva cortisol test report.
When the mind & body are in synch we can easily pick up on the symptoms and act accordingly. Someone with a sensitive digestive system may want to adapt their diet accordingly when faced with stress. While someone dopamine-driven may want to schedule constructive activities during stressful periods and avoid the abuse of toxins. Of course, a mind-body connection is achievable through yoga, just not guaranteed.
I have observed practitioners focusing completely on their body (and how to perform a posture) and others obsessed about their emotions. Neither approach will achieve a mind-body connection.
Here are a few tips on how to improve your mind-body connection with yoga to reduce stress:
Every time you start your yoga practice perform each exercise as if you are doing it for the first time.
Try to remember what you do during the class: postures, alignment adjustments, breathing exercises, etc. At the end of the class, it’s worth reviewing what you went through.
Maintain an inquisitive mind, questioning what effect each exercise has on you.
Question if your current practice is serving you at this moment.
🛏 Yoga as a nurturing practice to reduce stress
This is by far the most common reason why people start yoga in the western world (alongside improving flexibility). Yoga offers numerous poses, that can calm the mind & the body. It’s hard to focus and make good decisions when overwhelmed, overthinking, or overworked.
Calming the nervous system with restorative yoga postures can help get more centered and ultimately deal with the task at hand.
While the nervous system can also calm down in passive ways, such as a Jacuzzi or massage, the fact that yoga requires active participation makes it even more beneficial. What’s interesting is that those that need restorative practice the most, are often the last ones to attend such a class. The more yang someone is the more need they have for yin. Usually, this individual will seek more yang practices to fight fire with fire.
😤 Breath as the backdoor to our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
Our body has been engineered to adapt to our environment. If it was not for our ancestors’ ability to adapt we would not be where we are now. Our body’s adaptation system is called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and it orchestrates the function of numerous organs so that we will improve our chances for surviving and procreating.
The ANS controls the endocrine system (hormones), heart rate, and breathing. The different parts of the ANS are linked with each other, somewhat through a very famous nerve called the vagus nerve. Of all the components of the ANS, the breath is the one we have easier control over, and thus by changing our breath we can manipulate the state of the entire ANS.
In a state of distress, we feel that we have no control over the situation. While this may hold true, we do have control of our response to it, and there is no more apt way to prove that than by altering the state of our nervous system through breathing.
It is worth pointing out that breathing can be used to activate both the sympathetic (fight or flight) or parasympathetic (rest & digest) parts of our ANS. This can be useful in periods of stress, as a stressful situation may also demand us to be in a state of alertness at times. The video below is from my 5 videos series #freebreathing mini-course showing participants how they can gain control of the nervous system through their breath.
When holding yoga poses for long periods (ie. more than 10 seconds) lactic acid builds up in the muscles we recruit, which we often experience as muscular fatigue. In the process of holding these postures, we learn how to breathe accordingly to endure the “pain”. Sequentially we learn how to use our breath in other states of discomfort such as situations of distress. One key aspect of breath which allows us to endure these situations is rhythm. Establishing a slow, rhythmic pattern not only can help us maintain an optimal supply of oxygen to our organs but also stay centered.
The easiest way to establish a rhythm is to count each of the four stages of the breathing cycle. Inhalation, pause, exhalation, and pause for a set period of time. Some individuals are not able to pause while breathing, due to low tolerance & poor chemo-sensitivity to CO2, in which case it is best to set a breathing pattern involving inhalations & exhalations only.
This is a simple introductory exercise to help you establish a rhythm.
🌞🔗🌙 Yoga a circadian rhythm regulator
When we are in distress for prolonged periods our body will be adjusting to the new situation. The adaptation process will involve altering hormone production, metabolism, and excretion which will sequentially affect our appetite, sleep, and sex hormones. Do you eat better, sleep better or have the same sex drive when you’re stressed or relaxed?
Physical exercise as well as breathwork, especially when performed at the same time of the day can help us regain control of our hormonal cycle and sequentially our circadian rhythm, our body’s biological clock. By restoring our circadian rhythm we’re able to reverse the vicious cycle of stress stimulus; feeling distressed, being oversensitive to stress stimulus, and feeling more distressed.
Rhythm is one of the five qualities of good breathing. My course “Breathe Right” has been developed specifically to help reprogram our everyday breathing patterns. The video below is from my Breathe Right 2-week course and covers an exercise to help establish a breathing rhythm.
🏋🏽♀️ Breathwork: a workout for your respiratory system
The demands on the breath during a yoga asana class can be high as the biomechanics of the respiratory system can be challenged. No wonder free divers perform numerous stretches to improve their respiratory capacity.
Aside from the physical postures, yoga offers a plethora of breathing techniques that will help improve respiratory capacity. Altering the levels of blood gases, like nitric oxide (the molecule behind viagra), oxygen, and carbon dioxide can help achieve this. The 2 pillars of breathwork are hypercapnia (increased levels of CO2) & hypoxia (low levels of Oxygen).
Individuals with low tolerance to CO2 are more susceptible to anxiety & panic attacks. Knowing this allows us, to improve our resilience to stress and response to it, by training our respiratory capacity.
If you are interested in finding out what your tolerance to CO2 is, you can perform the test described in the video below.
💨 Better oxygenation of our brain
Do you ever hold your breath unconsciously when you’re stressed? While this is less worrying than most people think, it is still an indication of being in an uncentered state. A yoga and breathing practice can help train our respiratory system to maintain regular/slow inhalations and exhalations and thus provide a continuous supply of oxygen to our lungs and peripheral organs (including the brain).
Optimal levels of oxygen, nitric oxide, and carbon dioxide are essential in order to secure oxygen delivery to the organs. All organs are necessary for dealing with stressful situations (including adrenals, brain, kidneys) and they need to operate optimally.
🔬 Concentration = Mental strength
Our ability to perform physical tasks depends, to a large extent, on our ability to recruit our muscles. Similarly, our ability to think depends on our ability to recruit our brain. Being mentally sharp 24/7 is not possible and neither necessary. When faced with challenging situations maintaining a clear mind is critical in making the best decisions.
Unquestionably all the exercises we covered until now can support brain health. Meditation however is the most direct way to train our brain. Meditation, a component of yoga, helps us gain control of our brain by teaching us how to stop thinking which can reduce stress. Once we learn how to do that, we can then direct our thoughts at will. Wouldn’t that be beneficial when faced with a stressful situation and not having emotions run our brain?
Challenges are part of life, if not synonymous with it. We refer to challenges as eustress when it’s related to things that we enjoy and inspire us. We refer to challenges as distress when we see no value in them.
Yoga & breathwork can help us in stressful situations so that we:
Understand the challenge at hand.
See the impact it has on us.
Find the resources we need.
Become more resilient.
All the above though are likely to take time. Do not expect the benefits after one class. By practicing the techniques over time, yoga helps with stress and anxiety. Be confident that thousands of practitioners have experienced these benefits before you. To schedule an appointment, send me a message via the contact page.