Saturday, 12 August 2017

Hands free lotus / padmasana, "...ideally it should be like folding the arms" Simon Borg Olivier


"Similarly, the natural activity of ‘crossing your arms’ allows us to appreciate the difference between ‘tensing’ muscles as opposed to simply ‘activating’ muscles by ‘doing an action’. When you bend your elbow to ‘cross your arms’ it doesn’t feel like your are ‘tensing’ muscles’, but if you touch your biceps brachialis (the muscle on the front of the upper arm) when the elbow bends to cross your arms you can easily feel the biceps muscle working as you make the action of moving the arm into this position. This shows that the muscles of the elbow were ‘activated’ when you when you did this natural activity of bending the elbow but it didn’t feel like you were ‘tensing’ the biceps or any other elbow muscles.

So, a physical yoga practice in a flexible and natural body could be as effortless as ‘crossing your arms’. In fact, for a natural bodied person, for example someone who always squatted and sat cross-legged on the floor, ‘Lotus posture’ (Padmasana) is as ‘effortless as crossing your arms’. Your legs in the ‘Lotus posture’ (Padmasana) should be able to be like your hands – one coming on top of the other. It should not be something where you force or pull the legs into position as many people do in modern yoga, which tends to cause sensations of ‘stretch’ and reflex ‘tension’ (see Figure 1.1).

This principle is reflected morally in the first limb (yama) of astânga (eight-limbed) yoga. It is the very act of moving naturally into a position by ‘activating’ muscles rather than ‘tensing’ muscles that encourages the movement of energy and information through the body. This principle is reflected physiologically in the hatha yoga vidya (the science of physical yoga) and is further explained in Chapter 2 of this book". Simon Borg-Olivier Why After Ten Years of Teaching Yoga We Became Physiotherapists

Below Krishnamacharya hands free padmasana

So Simon talks of moving into padmasana hands free but he also mentions without momentum or gravity, Krishnamacharya above is using momentum

"The video below is part of one of our more advanced Yoga Synergy Sequences. Notice the use of controlled active movements that are a key feature of even the most simple Yoga Synergy sequences. I am getting into postures without using external forces such as gravity, momentum or one limb pulling another in the same way that traditional yoga has always mostly been practiced in India. Active movements activate the shortened muscles, which causes the lengthened muscles to become reciprocally relaxed. This gives flexibility without feeling strong stretching, builds strength without stress,  increases blood flow without the rate racing; and allows you to do complex postures without having to over think. Active movements are a key feature of the Yoga Synergy System that Bianca Machliss and I developed as traditional yoga for the modern body". Simon Borg-Olivier Moving Actively into Postures Can give Strength and Flexibility Without Tension or Stretching

Below I have some videos of moving into lotus from shoulderstand, headstand, handstand and also jumping through and back into lotus into kukkutasana and a hands free padmasana of my own, the last three though use momentum. 

Below I'm exploring the idea of folding into lotus, as if folding your arms. Still very much work in progress, the use of the mat especially with the second leg feels like cheating but it's an interesting experiment and it will be interesting to see if it improves any over the next couple of months. Is it indeed possible to move into lotus while seated, as if folding your arms.

Some early videos

Jumping into lotus and jumping back from lotus

Hands free lotus but relying on momentum

Not hands free but I7m interested in the idea of folding into lotus in headstand (hands free) lowering to the mat but then lifting back up again to unbind. Lowering is trickier than going up.

Amused by this early video of trying to jump into kukkutasana, get there in the end.

Working towards Karandavasana, the 14 day challenge, it took another week before I was able to go back up.

Vinyasa Krama padmasana sequences

Note: the sequences in Vinyasa krama tend to be educational, showing the relation between different variations as preparation and extension.  Generally, within a sequence there tends to be several key asana, preceeded by preparation and followed by my challenging variations. If the preparations for the asana are all that are possible in one group then you could then move on to the within the sequence and so on. Once a certain degree of familiarity is attained one then the idea is to take a number of asana and variations from different sequences to construct your daily practice, perhaps different variations on different days so as to access all areas of the body over a week or so.

Lotus preparation

If you're struggling with your lotus and installing an old fashioned squat toilet is impractical, slipping malasana somewhere into your practice might be an option and may help.


The most important thing to remember about lotus is to have your knee bent before trying to take it onto the thigh, bending the knee fully, locks and protects the knee, try and crank an unbent knee into lotus, or even trow it in under momentum can cause serious damage.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

'Traditional' Ashtanga Vinyasa (Krama ) practice?

Krishnamacharya Mysore 1934
At the time Krishnamacharya was teaching the young Pattabhi Jois.

This niralumba sarvangasana variation never made it into Jois' Ashtanga Vinyasa presentation of his teachers teaching, except perhaps while passing through to Urdhva Padmasana but we see it in the 1938 Mysore demonstration footage by Krishnamacharya ( see below), and he continued to teach niralumba sarvangasana variations to his long standing student Ramaswami in Chennai from the 1950s onwards.  

Is this all.... 'traditional'?  Sharath and indeed Manju are wrong I suspect to argue that Ashtanga Vinyasa is 'traditional practice' as would Krishnamacharya were he to suggest that what he was teaching was 'traditional' ( I don't remember Ramaswami ever suggesting he indicated such a thing). 'Tradition' has no meaning here unless it's perhaps asana (most likely a seated asana)  followed by pranayama and a sit of/for self enquiry all on a foundation of appropriate yama/niyama. 

Ultimately there is just sincere, committed ( and appropriate for you) practice with intention.

Words like 'tradition' are mostly promotion.


I was reminded of this post from 2010 by my friend Sharon Hascall and realised that how I'm practicing today really isn't that much different from how I was practicing back then..., the more it changes the more it stays the same. Sharath of course reminds us of late, that Ashtanga Vinyasa too is a Vinyasa Krama.

Here's the post from 2010 followed by my  fb post from a couple of days ago, more of a Simon Borg-Olivier approach to tadasana/Standing perhaps but otherwise.....

As mentioned in yesterdays post, I seem to have settled down into a Vinyasa Krama in the morning and Ashtanga in the evening routine.

Ashtanga we know righ,t but perhaps a closer look at what I mean by a 'simple' and 'core' VK practice is called for.

There seem to be recommendations and suggestions (I'm taking recommendations as stronger here).

Following his teacher Krishnamacharya, Ramaswami recommends practicing daily
A long, five to ten minute Paschimotansana
A five minute Shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are done with the legs relaxed.
A five to ten minute Headstand.
Another shoulderstand for five minutes and a counter posture.
Maha Mudra ( like janu sirsasna A without the forward bend )

also in a suitable posture for meditation
Kapalabhati 108

He also suggests
A short Tadasana sequence
Some preparation postures preceding the first shoulderstand
Backbend counter poses following the shoulderstands
Baddha Konasana

I tend to throw in a chanted Sury namaskara as well as a short Asymmetric subroutine

Put both the recommendations and suggestions and my additions together and you have my Simple core Vinyasa krama practice

A short Tadasana sequence
A short Asymmetric routine
A long Paschimottanasana
Some preparation postures preceding the first shoulderstand
A five minute shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are with the legs relaxed
Backbend counter posture
10 Minute headstand
Another Shoulderstand
followed by another backbend counter pose
Maha Mudra
Baddha Konasana
In Padmasana
Kapalabhati 108
Pranayama ( nadi shodana )
Japa ( mantra) meditation

Vinyasa Krama is a naturally flexible approach

I tend to do a basic ten minute tadasana routine but there are several other options within the full On your feet 'tadasana' sequence. You may wish, as I did earlier in the week, to substitute in a few more twisting movements or squats.

I tend to rotate daily the Asymmetric subroutine, one day maha mudra, another, the marichi or half lotus subroutine. Find them all the options here.

I tend to stay in straight paschimottanasana and work on my breath and bandhas but there are some options while in the pose.

Backbend counterpose options are here

Following Ramaswami's advice I keep the first shoulderstand simple, relaxed legs for the first three minutes, just working on breath and bandhas but for the second Shoulderstand there are all kinds of options (the link includes the shoulderstand prep). I tend to do standard ashtanga finishing, halasana etc out of habit.

Headstands too have many options ( the headstand comes up at 3:45 )

I manage to keep the practice down to an hour, nothing feels rushed, overall it has a highly meditative feel to it. For me, my morning asana practice is preparation for extended pranayama and meditation but, of course, if that's not your bag, you can add in another half hour of Subroutines, some Triangle or On one leg subroutines perhaps to bring it up to a 90 minute practice in line with a standard Ashtanga practice.

and here's my post from a couple of days ago

As much as I'm enjoying exploring Simon Borg Olivier's spinal sequence in Standing ( as well as in some seated postures) AND the longer stays with kumbhaka in my 'proficient' Primary (… ) AND the moving up and down from Sirsasana to gomukhasana and back and likewise with Buddha konaasana and padmasana.... IT'S Krishnamacharya's Mysore 1938 shoulderstand variations ( many of which a Ramaswami taught us on his Vinyasa Krama TT) that I perhaps ENJOY the most in my practice and look forward to each morning. I think you can tell from the video that perhaps Krishnamacharya enjoyed them
Blog post with screenshots here…/krishnamacharyas-1938-shou…

Note: Re the long stay in Pachimottanasana and maha mudra mentioned in the 2010 post.... I'm more interested in of late in moving in and out of variations of a posture, a one breath/one asana or variation of an asana approach. So I will enter one hand hold variations of paschimottanasana, perhaps a prep version with the knees bent and take a kumbhaka on the exhalation, raise out of the fold and then enter again to another hand variations and another kumbhaka and so on. Still a long stay in the key posture but more movement in and out of it via the variations. Ramaswami suggested I think at one point of our TT that one reason Krishnamacharya introduced variations was to to stop the boys of the palace getting bored, likewise having them chant a mantra during the kumbhaka. It's Simon Borg-Olivier's thoughts on active movements that is interesting me however rather than getting bored. This from Simon's recent share of my post
"Active movements are the traditional way to come into yoga postures. These are movements that are done by the muscles that would be used to enter a posture without the assistance of external forces such as gravity, momentum, or one limb pulling on another limb. Active movements can give you strength without stress, flexibility without painful stretching, and improved circulation without increasing your heart rate."

....and this on inversions from something I wrote  this morning

'... very interested in exploring transplanting what you're doing in standing into inversions, moving perhaps not as deeply into inverted postures/variations as I've tended to in the past but rather, more gentle movements of the spine, this way and that, waving my legs around as if they were my arms, rolling vertebrae by vertebrae into and then back up out of a posture. It seems to make sense but early days'.

Is this all.... 'traditional'?  Sharath and indeed Manju are wrong I suspect to argue that Ashtanga Vinyasa is 'traditional practice' as would Krishnamacharya were he to suggest that what he was teaching was 'traditional' ( i don't remember Ramaswami ever suggesting he indicated such a thing). 'Tradition' has no meaning here unless it's perhaps asana (most likely a seated asana)  followed by pranayama and a sit of/for self enquiry all on a foundation of appropriate yama/niyama.

Ultimately there is just sincere, committed ( and appropriate for you) practice with intention.


Is this 'traditional'? 
Not in the slightest but then what is.....

and yet on the other hand.....

Above: One minute breath (give or take). 
Something I mentioned on my most recent blog post (link on profile).
Generally Simon Borg-Olivier recommends, when beginning physical yoga as well as perhaps a new sequence or approach, to employ natural breathing 'to the abdomen' a babies or sleeping breath. I've been employing relaxed abdominal breathing for a couple of years now but shifting from the Ashtanga one movement one inhalation or exhalation to letting the breath take care of itself has been challenging. But once you begin to get the hang of it other possibilities arise. In the video, I'm exploring breathing through the movements, so a long slow 30 second inhalation through the first stretches, of one arm and then the other above the head, one inhalation for both sides and then again a long slow, relaxed 30 second exhalation through the twists to the left and right. This is an aspect of practice I'm quite excited about exploring right now.
Note: The video is natural speed, it hasn't been slowed down.

Below, Qigong is it just me or is this Simon forty years from now.

Born in 1918, Master Chou now 92 years old and can move much better than most young people. Here is a a preview from a documentary currently in production titled Mentors and Proteges. This segment features the amazing 91 year old Master Chou who was mentored by PU RU of the Imperial Palace, cousin 


"About 1122 B.C., The Book of Change (I Ching) first recorded the concept of qi or vital energy.  Studying the relationship of three powers—heaven, earth, and man---was an early step in the development of qigong.  Around 450 B.C., Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, described breathing techniques in his book Dao De Jing, recommending that the breath be collected and allowed to descend in the body.  Interest in breath and life force (qi) was heightened during this period and became one of the roots of Chinese Medicine, along with the concepts of yin and yang and the five elements".

"Although there is archeological evidence that dao-yin was sometimes coupled with military drills at an earlier time, it was around 500 A.D. that a Buddhist monk, Bodhidarma, came from India to the Shao Lin Temple in China (where he was called Ta Mo).  He is credited with unifying the spiritual and martial branches of qigong, by teaching ailing sedentary monks to strengthen their bodies through movements, while also teaching pugilistic martial artists how to softly empower their fighting through internal and spiritual practices.  After his death, qigong-like trainings for martial arts continued to develop as it became evident that much advantage could be gained through these methods.  These, too, were kept secret so that enemies couldn’t use them to also gain advantage".

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Work in progress: Ashtanga, always. Sirsasana (headstand) to Gomukhasana and back, to Baddha Konasana and back, to Padmasana and back. Plus a Baddha Padmasana approach.

I was tempted to start another blog altogether for this focus on Simon and Bianca's approach to practice, to strongly signal that it's in many ways a new beginning but then isn't our practice always a new beginning, every time we step on the mat and encounter our body as it is that morning, isn't it or shouldn't it be perhaps as if the first time, just as each morning we start from scratch and seek to do a little better in regards to the yama/niyama that day.

This isn't a new 'style' of yoga, just an alternatively mindful approach to the practice we already have, If I feel a long way from my Ashtanga Vinyasa practice, moving back closer to the Vinyasa Krama variations of Krishnamacharya/Ramaswami, then  I'm reminded that Simon has an online Ashtanga course in the works. Whatever we practice we can always perhaps improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our practice as well as making it sustainable for the long as well as short term.

Pattabhi Jois preserved one form of Krishnamacharya's teaching of asana from the Mysore period, the form clearly, originally, designed/intended for the teaching of the young boys of the Mysore palace (this does not mean that the practice is exclusively for young boys and can't be enjoyed by anyone else). We can see from the 1938 footage and from Krishnamacharya own writing from this period that his teaching at this time, in 20s-50s Mysore took several forms, with/without kumbhaka,  with/without more variations. Manju and Saraswati have preserved one form as have many of the early teachers, as has Sharath, a base camp practice if you will from which we can venture out and return. Other early teachers have explored the possibilities of Krishnamacharya's practice as did the great man himself in his later teaching, as did Iyengar. Were they developing different 'styles' or just continuing the postural research from the ground of their interpretation of early sources, Iyengar strongly indicated the later.

Sharath, my friend Manju (anyone who studies with Manju I suspect comes away feeling that he is a friend rather than their 'guru') claim that the Ashtanga vinyasa form they teach is traditional. Having spent ten years looking at the history of the form  here on the blog that makes little sense to me. In what possible way is Ashtanga vinyasa more traditional say than the Vinyasa Flow Power yoga in your local gym down the road. Not in the count certainly, not in the tristana, not in selection and ordering of postures. Traditional yoga if it means anything is a dedicated, sincere, committed physical practice of some form that prepares us, along with our pranayama, for the meditative limbs and enquiry into self, all on the basis of appropriate  yama/niyama we have chosen to seek to live our lives by that support this enquiry. Too often we become fixated on the form at the expense of it's purpose. In his book Yoga Mala, Pattabhi Jois suggested that after fifty we should choose a few appropriate asana, that even a handful of salutations (which certainly weren't traditional, Krishnamacharya frowned upon them as a fitness fad and rarely taught them) followed by the last three postures may be considered sufficient.... and still Ashtanga.

I have loved my Ashtanga practice, I'm grateful for it for, to all teachers and practitioners that I thank each time I step on the mat, for my personal practice that has emerged out of it. Is it still Ashtanga vinyasa, I cease to care that much about it's label, is it still Ashtanga, is it yoga? Yes, I believe it is, if it's still a committed enquiry of self.

This post relates to my previous posts

In their standing sequences at Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss focus on moving the spine vertebra by vertebrae while keeping length and avoiding, as much as possible, any compression, starting from the base of the spine around L5 and moving on up, tricky.

Below is my first video of working on their Spinal movements that I've become addicted to, I'm more than a little embarrassed to share it, suggesting that after ten years of practice and nine of blogging about that I'm taking myself and my practice a little too seriously. I like to think of this video as akin to one of those first jump back in progress videos form the first weeks of the blog.

I'm thinking of tai chi, of Qi gong and how it takes decades of practice to iron out the edges, to maintain focus on all the elements throughout.

It's work in progress, come back in ten years.

Instruction for this sequence can be found on this download

And Simon showing how it should be done

Note: I strongly recommend watching this series of videos on YouTube for an explanation of the why and wherefore of all these movements SPINAL MOVEMENTS SEQUENCE 

One minute breath (give or take). 
Generally Simon Borg-Olivier recommends, when beginning physical yoga as well as perhaps a new sequence or approach, to employ natural breathing 'to the abdomen' a babies or sleeping breath. I've been employing relaxed abdominal breathing for a couple of years now but shifting from the Ashtanga one movement one inhalation or exhalation to letting the breath take care of itself has been challenging. But once you begin to get the hang of it other possibilities arise. In the video, I'm exploring breathing through the movements, so a long slow 30 second inhalation through the first stretches, of one arm and then the other above the head, one inhalation for both sides and then again a long slow, relaxed 30 second exhalation through the twists to the left and right. This is an aspect of practice I'm quite excited about exploring right now.

Note: The video is natural speed, it hasn't been slowed down.

And also this. I love what Simon has to say on this video about practice and Yoga in general and I've shared this here before but try changing the settings to 1080p and watching it with the sound off. THIS is what I'm currently exploring in my own practice, the first two minutes in particular.

Generally Simon recommends, when beginning physical yoga as well as perhaps a new sequence or approach, to employ natural breathing 'to the abdomen' a babies or sleeping breath. I've been employing relaxed abdominal breathing for a couple of years now but shifting from the Ashtanga one movement one inhalation or exhalation to letting the breath take care of itself has been challenging. But once you begin to get the hang of it other possibilities arise. in the video above, in places, I'm exploring breathing through the movements, so a long slow inhalation through the first stretches of one arm and the  the other above the head, one inhalation for both sides and then again a long slow, relaxed exhalation through the twists to the left and right. This is an aspect of practice I'm quite excited about exploring right now.

So the focus on the spine is clear and this carries on through Simon and Bianca's approach to seated postures, lengthening the spine, maintaining space as we move in and out of 'traditional/classical' postures. I began to wonder though about Inversions. In shoulder stand it's possible to do something similar perhaps, rolling up and down the spin/the mat, into and out of postures as we do in occasionally inVinyasa Krama. The video below is from a couple of years back, there is compression in the spine here in the backbend but a rolling down and back up too in the Supta Padangushtasana variation as seen in Krishnamacharya's 1938 Mysore documentary footage starting two minutes in, I'm working on this now with Simon in mind as I am in revisiting all the Vinyasa Krama sequences.

What then can we do with headstand, Vinyasa Krama variations come to mind, but we can also perhaps move from headstand to seated just as we roll down from shoulderstand to the floor, curling the spine vertebra by vertebra,  it's interesting to explore, again work in progress, research.

Below then Sirsasana to gomukhasana, a posture Simon and Bianca favour in their fundamentals course

Also, exploring 'rolling' the spine down into baddha konasana which we can also take back up although I haven't shown it in the video. 

I'm also exploring Simon's nerve tensioning arm movements in the posture as well as the spinal movement, working to relax the spine as I move in and out of the posture.

Flow without Fluidity

Even though there is movement to and from the postures in Ashtanga and Vinyasa krama, such practice still feels somewhat....static, flow perhaps but without... fluidity, it's perhaps this fluidity that I'm enamoured with in Simon and Bianca's approach and suspect may be of benefit.

In going the other way, back up to headstand from padmasana (lotus) I'm using some of Simon Borg-Olivier's tips for effortless handstand here. Aiming to push the hips forward, lifting the upper back and moving the sitting bones forward to firm the abdomen and make up for the lack of navasana, the key though seems to be breathing into the abdomen as I bring my lots up my arms and then all the way up to Sirsasana. 

See Simon's how to lift up to handstand , part fifteen in his superb spinal sequence series of videos on YouTube Update: 

And finally another of the movements we see in the spinal sequence in the video at the top of the page (near the end) to move with ease into the bind of baddha padmasana, active movement.

So much to work on here, I'm fascinated again by my practice.


Just as I start to think that I've moved far from Ashtanga vinyasa, my thinking turns fall circle and I start to think that it's really not so different after all.

A few Sury's
Standing (with a lot of arm waving I'll admit - and not just in standing, seated too)
On one leg
First half of 2nd
First half of primary
Sirsasana (with variations, just as krishnamacharya included variations in the 1938 footage)

Not so far away after all perhaps

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Vyasa and Ganesa - August 2017 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami

I am in Los Angeles teaching a 50 hour 10 day program on Bhagavatgita in the teaching of Krishnamacharya to a compact nice group. I have six more days to go. I am also teaching in the evenings a 20 hour 10 day program on core vinyasakrama asana program. In September I am scheduled to teach a 15 hr Samkhya Karika program at Chicago Yoga center  Sep 15/17 , 2017

Vyasa and Ganesa

Above: My interpolation into Ramaswami's newsletter of the opening Vyasa/Ganesha scene from Peter Brooks' delightful Mahabharata.

Vyasa is the name associated with much of ancient Sanathana dharma in India. Vyasa as Vedavyasa is credited with codifying and compiling the four major vedas the main text (grantha) in ancient India. The name Vyasa is also associated with the 18 puranas or mythology that in the form of divine stories  explains the dharma of the vedas. Then he is also credited with writing an important itihasa called the Maha Bharata believed to be the longest epic ever written. Itihasa would mean a historical account --iti (thus) ha (surely) Asa (it was) indicating that Mahabharata is a historical account of the Chandra or moon dynasty. Vyasa himself is an important player in the Mahabharata. After what happened to the kauravas and pandavas in the Kurukshetra war, Brahma is said to have approached Vyasa to write the story of Mahabharata so that human beings will have an authentic account of this phenomenal historic happening and also let people learn dharma from this story. When he then decided to write the whole story he found it would be an extraordinarily voluminous work and he thought if he could dictate the story  at the rate of speaking and if one wonderful person would write it down, it could be save time and also he could keep pace with the thought flow. Then he approached the lovable Lord Ganesa the elephant headed son of Siva/Parvati. Ganesa agreed but he put forward a condition. He said that Vyasa should dictate continuously without a break. It suited Vyasa well but he put forward a counter condition. Vyasa said that Ganesa should understand the real import of the matter and not merely take down without understanding. Ganesa who is also known as fire of wisdom by Tirumular agreed immediately.  And then the great epic work started. Every now and then Vyasa would introduce a verse which required some reflection on the part of the Ganesa and as Ganesa would ponder over the sloka, Vyassa would compose the next bunch of verses. These occasional speed breakers came to be known as Vyasa's secrets.

There is a Sanskrit word
प्राज्ञ prājña. 

This can be split as pra+ आज्ञ ājña or pra+अज्ञ ajña  pra would mean  thorough and jña would mean one who knows. The prefix 'aa' would mean ''complete".

So प्राज्ञ prājña would mean one who has thorough and complete knowledge. The other split of the word would  pra + अज्ञ ajña. अज्ञ ajña is jña with the prefix 'a' 'a' means not whereas aa is complete.

So प्राज्ञ prājña could mean a highly wise person or a consummate idiot depending how the word is split.

In Sanskrit at the ending vowel of pra and ajña will become prājña and pra+ ājña also will also be prājña. Ganesa will have decided quickly if the word prājña meant a wise man or an idiot.

There are several instances where the slokas require some reflection to understand the sloka.
In the Bhagacat Gita which is a part of the Mahabharata, here is an interesting half sloka

करमण्यकरम यः पश्येदकर्मणि च कर्म यः

Karmaṇyakarma  yah paśyed yakarama  yaḥ akarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ

It would mean “One who can see non action in action and action in inaction ….

What does it mean?

The truth that the Self Is action less is clearly taught in smriti sruti  and surely by reason. It is however a deep rooted habit of the mind  to connect action with the action less Self even as it is contrary to the real nature of the Self. So it is said that even wise are deluded as to what action is and what non action is. Action pertains to the physical body (sarira) but man falsely attributes action to the Self and imagines “ I am the agent , the action is mine and I shall reap the fruits of my action”. (Karmaṇyakarma  yah paśyet )Similarly he falsely imputes to the Self the cessation of activity in the state of nirvikalpa Samadhi or nirodha Samadhi which pertains to the citta and not the self. The cessation of activity of the citta is itself an activity as the active citta has to perform an action of stopping to come to a state of non action. So the knowledgeable one is said to see that the Self which is non acting appears  to act due to erroneous perception. Likewise the citta  which is usually active reaches a non acting state of nirodha or brahma nirvana or karmani akarma

Srivatsa Ramaswami

Friday, 21 July 2017

Spinal and Active movements.: After ten years, a moving away from Ashtanga Vinyasa somewhat?

Siva (Nataraja)
Makes me think of Simon Borg-Olivier's active movement.

Period:Chola period (880–1279)Date:ca. 11th centuryCulture:Indian (Tamil Nadu)Medium:Copper alloyDimensions:H. 26 7/8 in. (68.3 cm); Diam. 22 1/4 in. (56.5 cm)

Exploring 'active movement'. Inspired by Simon Borg-Olivier's spinal and active movement.

"By initiating all your practice (both in exercise and yoga) with active movements you elicit the reciprocal relaxation spinal reflex that allows you to develop strength without becoming tense, develop flexibility without feeling like you’re stretching, increase blood flow without needing to make your heart beat faster and staying relaxed and stress free while still doing something."
Simon Borg-Olivier

I'm having the best time trying to get my head around Simon Borg-Olivier's 'active movement' approach to practice (still very much work in progress as I begin to become more acquainted - after ten years of practice- with my spine), a kind of... weaving your way, from the spine, into and out of (or through) a posture rather than pulling, levering..., relying on gravity or an assist.

I've been a fan of Simon's for years of course but have tended to sift through his work to see what I can mine and bring back to my Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama practice, I tended to fast forward through the arm waving and spinal 'undulation', finally the penny seems to have dropped and I7m 'all in'.

I really still don't know what the hell I'm talking about or doing, think of this as somewhat akin to those first ( and let's face it, up to the most recent) Ashtanga blog posts ten years ago (or later, Vinyasa Krama posts) as I sought to try and make sense of (the) practice.

Sifting back thorough Simon and Bianca's Yoga Fundamentals course notes from as well as those for their Anatomy and Physiology course, their book..., videos scattered all over YouTube, to try and get a better grasp of what's going on (or could be) and how one might take advantage of the possibilities.

Thinking vertebrae by vertebrae, reciprocal relaxation back and forth, relaxed breathing 'through' the movements...., oh brave new world.

Is this still Ashtanga vinyasa (the order of postures is or can still be similar at least and Simon does have an Online Ashtanga course in the works, Vinyasa Krama (feels closer), Siva's 'original dance' or something else altogether. I cease to care about labels my spine (...body) feels fantastic, I feel calm, somewhat serene throughout and am taking new joy in my practice.....,

I'm smiling on the inside.

Simon seems to suggest that this is more of an approach we can take to the practice we have rather than a different practice altogether, see this post

How to Practice Any Yoga Style and What Makes a Good Teacher

Perhaps it reminds me somewhat of the old solo Aikido kata I used to practice decades ago or Iaido more recently but it feels a little like going home.

See perhaps this post from Simon

Moving Actively into Postures Can give Strength and Flexibility Without Tension or Stretching

and my previous post...

Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with my spine all over again.

Here's Simon...

from the video notes

"Coming into the twist turn actively from the navel and sure you can breathe into your abdomen".
"If you need to use your hands to get to get into lotus posture then you are (probably) better off doing cross-legged posture". Active movements such as these are at the base of natural traditional yoga but are often ignored in modern yoga.
Many people force themselves into positions using forces external to their body such as gravity, momentum or one limb pulling on another. If you over-stretch in this way and don't tighten your muscles you risk damaging your joints. And if you over-tense your muscles in order to protect your joints you can block the flow of energy and information in your body. If you over-tense and harden the abdomen in a way that prevents natural diaphragmatic breathing then you can also enter a state of 'flight or fight' and no matter how much you 'open your heart centre' the body will be giving you nerve signals that are often interpreted as fear, anger and aggression.
And that doesn't sound too much like yoga to me!

The video above video comes from the online course 'Teacher Training Essentials: Yoga Fundamentals' by physiotherapists and co-directors of Yoga Synergy Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss.


What is an original movement? Here Simon Borg-Olivier replies to this simple question. 
More about Simon: and

Clearly I need to go to one of Simon's long courses, his month long TT perhaps in Goa, this video is from my dear friend Chris ( based in Madrid who recently got back from Simon's TT course, an active movement approach?

But see what I mean about rediscovering the sheer joy of practice, whatever form your practice may take.




Thursday, 13 July 2017

Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with my SPINE all over again.

This full class by Simon Borg-Olivier in Bali, for Stu at Love Yoga anatomy....

This is a wonderful presentation of much that you can find in the spinal sequence series of YouTube posts below, as well as in the Yoga Synergy Fundamentals course.

It's tricky to follow some of the arm movements the first few times but you get close enough for jazz, it gets easier with familiarity (see my attempt in the video further below, Simon makes it looks so easy and natural).

I've recently switched to night shifts for a few months. There's a break of a couple of hours in the middle of the night and I've tried to crunch myself into a couple of uncomfortable chairs (you can see them in the video below) to grab an hours sleep before my morning classes. Needless to say I came away with a trapped nerve in my spine and could barely stand. I dutifully practiced a highly simplified/Vinyasa krama adapted version of Ashtanga Primary series, mainly working on the breath and getting some movement but my back was like a board. I've been in agony for days.

Last night I did some of Simon's movements and this morning I just followed along to Simon's full class from Bali and had a 'Road to damascus' moment, an epiphany of sorts. My spine feels better...., friendly, I'm actually quite enamoured with it...

Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with my SPINE all over again.

As much as I love Simon's work, rather than take on board fully his approach to practice I've always tended to seek to introduce him into the practice I already have, to my work on Krishnamacharya's early Ashtanga ( to enable longer stays), to Vinyasa Krama ( and practice the variations more safely), to my personal Ashtanga practice ( one reason I was so excited to hear that Simon is finishing up a new online Ashtanga course), and yet more and more recently, I've had the feeling that rather than bring Simon to the practice I have, I should rather bring my practice of the last ten years to Simon and just go all in.

I was resistant to all the arm waving we see on Simon's videos, to the undulations of the body, at least until I came across the Spinal series of videos Simon posted on Youtube (see the original post below) and I could finally understand exactly what he's actually up to, the reasons, justification for every micro movement.

I followed his excellent online Fundamentals course but again, taking what I was learning in the course to bring to my own practice.... of late though, there's been more arm waving, more...undulation, more movement in my spine, from my spine.

The other morning felt like a final acceptance. 

I've practiced along to several versions of Simon's spinal sequence, this one above from Bali, perhaps more than the other demonstrates more completely how the spine is the focus of every movement. Every wave of the arm, every undulation, twist and bend all designed to move information up and down the spine, to protect and preserve the spine, every movement, every posture Simon presents seems to begin and end with the spine. It's that I think that I love about this approach to practice.

There is some repetition in the sequence above, trim it down a bit and there is more time for some seated postures and inversions (see Simon's 84 key asana course perhaps). 

What I would like to see from Simon is perhaps a 'shorter' video that contains everything necessary for a daily practice, in the way that somebody might practice the 108 long form or 36 short form of taichi for a lifetime, a yoga version of such a practice. Simon occasionally hints at such a practice, that this movement would be more appropriate than yet another forward bend, that practicing a particular movement, a posture, practiced with more efficiency and effectiveness would mean a shorter stay or that more variations might be unnecessary.


Krishnamacharya introduced a vinyasa practice to us, he stressed the importance of vinyasa or the variations leading towards and away from a posture ( as well as the variations possible for the posture). More often than not we've tended to focus on the key asana, or those stages of the full and/or half vinyasa. With Simon, we are perhaps focussed more on the movement to, through and away from a posture (which if we looked at the frames on a roll of film are made up of a series of variations/vinyasas - the hidden asana I once called them, they can be practiced in a relatively fast pace as in the bali video above but Simon also suggests practicing them more slowly. Simon will often say that the way he approaches a posture is more of a movement than a stretch and isn't it this movement of information around the body that is key to hatha yoga.

Krishnamacharya introduced a variety of hand arm movements into practice, as we can see in Ramaswami's presentation of his teaching. Ramaswami was a student of Krishnamacharya for thirty plus years. Below are some examples in tadasana but Krishnamacharya employed similar movements in triangle postures, in virabhadrasana, in seated and kneeling postures. Simon's movements feel, to me at least, a development of this, a physiotherapists perhaps more anatomically and physiologically aware development, aiming towards a more efficient and effective postural practice before moving on to our pranayama and Sit.

I'm currently looking at this approach to practice in the context of slow breathing and 'one breath-one asana/variation', so occasionally introducing an appropriate kumbhaka into the mix. Rather than stay for five, ten breaths in an asana I'd rather introduce a kumbhaka of five, ten or twenty seconds into an appropriate vinyasa of an asana as well as reducing the number of movements to allow for slower practice, just as a Tai chi short form can be practiced in five minutes.... or twenty.

Below, using the big windows like mirrors during my solitary night shift at work to try and get to grips with Simons arm movements from his Spinal sequence.

Note: I've just noticed there's here's also an instruction video of the Spinal Movements Sequence upon which the Bali class above is probably based for $30 (Australian $). I'll add an update after I've practiced along with it.


Re the above video: Interesting. The video only covers the first few movements of the spinal sequence that we find on the Bali full class and on the Yoga Fundamentals online course. What Simon does do is introduce a range of spinal movements then apply these spinal movements in the second part of the video into some basic postures, legs apart, legs together, elephant stance, a lunge, one foot on tip toe etc. In the third part of the video he starts to combine these movements into a constant flow and then encourage a freedom of movement,, a kind of dance if you like that reminded me of how we use to riff on Aikido Kata years ago, while imagining one or more opponent.

I mentioned above that a video of essential movements would be nice and in a sense that is exactly what that is, a full range of spinal movements that in the accompanying 'applications' video Simon shows how they would come into play in classic postures if practiced correctly. 

I can see myself applying and expanding freely on this sequence during my nightshift practice.

Note: When you buy the Spinal sequence video it comes with the main instruction video, a lecture, the application lecture i just mentioned, an instruction free version and an intermediate demonstration.


The original post from a couple of years back.

The breath:  Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with asana all over again.

The breath! 

I'd started to feel that asana was getting in the way of the breath....  I'm falling in love with asana all over again.

Thank you Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss

All I've been interested in lately is the breath, breathing more and more slowly, kumbhaka,  exploring longer stays and at one point I was only half joking to Peg Mulqueen that I was tempted to explore forty minutes in tadasana.

When Krishnamacharya talked about 15 minutes to three hours in mayurasana was he joking, he didn't seem one to joke, not back in the Mysore days. And what about ten minutes in Chatauranga, fifteen in upward facing dog, is that even possible. And again, Jessica Walden's slow slow lifts with the breath in her arm balances, the breath all about the breath.

But here's Simon Borg-Olivier with a reminder of posture,  of movement, take the first two short videos below, we don't need to tighten the abdomen, a slight shift of posture (lean forward while standing for example and the abdomen is firm at the frount and yet relaxed at the sides, we can breathe 'into the abdomen', stay relaxed, it's a more subtle breath, longer stays become possible... perhaps in Mayurasana ( see previous post).

I'm excited again about asana, posture, movement. I already loved Simon's talk on theory but his practice had seemed a little.... dancelike to me, looking at it closer I see at times,  that there's more of a Tai Chi aspect to it ( Update: Thank you to Andrea for this link, those subtle movements, shifts of weight, engagement of different muscles, moving energy around the body ( think it this aspect also comes from Simon's time with Zhander Remete (Shadow Yoga) , Simon also studied with Iyengar for a long time and Pattabhi Jois also) and Simon should know, with his background in Molecular biology and later Anatomy and physiotherapy.... I don't turn of or glaze over when I hear him discuss energy in the body. 

What is Prana
Prana (aka Chi, Qi, Ki) in the body includes energy in the form of:

Electrical energy
Heat energy
Glucose and other energy carrying molecules
ATP (and other energy carrying molecules
Electromagnetic radiation
What is Chitta (Citta):

Citta (consciousness) in the body includes information in the form of:

Electric signals
Electronic signals
Electrochemical signals
Electric fields
Magnetic fields
Electromagnetic fields

The great teachers brought their talent's, gifts, skills and past teaching/experience together into their own explorations, own radical enquiry, that for me is Yoga. 

Here's Simon then in his 28 part Spinal sequence tutorial on Youtube with accompanying posts on his blog with transcriptions and notes ( titles below are linked to the blog). I've chosen five of my favourites, watch the first two and see if you're hooked like I was.

One can explore the breath and posture through the spinal sequence in an extra evening practice perhaps ( moon days, Saturday if you're an Ashtangi) or explore how we can introduce these principles subtle shifts of posture and breath into our own practice as I am, to make it safer, more effective perhaps.

I'm adding Simon's demonstration of the whole sequence at the end as well as an Advanced version to show what is possible with a relaxed abdomen.

I'll also put links to Simon's and Bianca's website, Blog, book and online 'Anatomy and Physiology' and 'Yoga fundamentals' course.

I spent time with Simon on the Yoga Rainbow Festival in Turkey last year, I was humbled to be teaching on the same festival as him and it was a great pleasure to sit over dinner, walk up and down mountains asking questions and discussing all things yoga. He's light, fun, the best company but pass him an academic paper and he's all scientist, checking references. I'm looking forward to spending time again with this warm generous man, my friend and teacher.

See my Interview with Simon on  this post 


"The key to effective spinal movements and core stabilisation is to always be able to breathe into the abdomen using the diaphragm and always initiate each spinal movement from the region of the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5). Once you release the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation that many people habitually use to ‘engage their core’ using abdominal breathing or at least the feeling that you can breathe into the abdomen, then the spine is free to move from its base at the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5) near the sacrum. Once you move your spine using the internal forces (trunk muscles) rather than external forces such as gravity, the use of another limb or momentum, then this will create tremendous core strength. In other words to move the spine you must initiate movement from the core with a sense that the core feels relaxed enough to breathe there. At this point the abdomen may feel quite soft to touch. However, once the movement begins the abdomen begins to firm because it is moving. This is an important key to functional mobile core strength and a pain free back".

Video Transcript:

“I’d like to demonstrate a serious of postures and movements which will mobilise my spine, my hips and my shoulders. But it’s not just the anatomy of my body that I am trying to mobilise, manipulate, strengthen and stretch, I am also working on my physiology. The main thing that is going to make the physiology of this movement and practice work is diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is not possible if you constantly engage the muscles that one would normally use to exhale
fully. So instead of tightening the muscles normally one would use to exhale fully, something which people often do in order to protect their spine and commonly called “core stabilisation”, I’ll be using my arms and my legs, movements from my hips and shoulders, to firm my abdomen. Then I will still be able to breathe from my abdomen and make the diaphragmatic breath that will help to nourish and nurture the nervous system, the immune system, the reproductive system and the digestive system. I’ll describe what I am doing as I go along (in the next few video blogs).”

Video Transcript:

“In the beginning I am standing with legs hip width apart as it gives a slightly wider base of support. I lean further forward with my hips and my armpits. This gives a reflex activation of the abdominal muscles so now if I breathe into the abdomen it will hardly move. Whereas if I lean back where one normally stands and breathe into the abdomen you will see a noticeable expansion in the abdomen. This same diaphragmatic breathing if you lean forward, the abdomen draws inwards naturally. If I breathe into the abdomen now, it’s firm but calm. Diaphragmatic breathing will allow you to feel calm.”


Because I moved in the way I did (up until this video segment), I’ve come to a point now where my body is warmed up enough that it doesn’t feel like a stretch to take the head to the knee. It’s a mistake to stretch the spine and the hamstrings at the same time. The misconception that some people have when they start to do stretching is that they see people who bring the head to the knee, people who are used to stretching, and this might make some people say that they are doing a very good stretch. When in fact for me now that I am warmed up I am not stretching I am just resting my head on my knee. Not only can my head comfortably touch to my knee the same way that one might bend the elbow, no sense of stretching just a movement also my leg has enough strength to come to my head, it’s not a stretch it’s a movement. It’s all right to stretch the back of the leg provided the spine is straight. But if you lengthen my spine as I am doing now and have the back of the leg feeling like it’s stretching that’s where danger can come in and the spine might be at risk. So if it’s first thing in the morning for example, and I am stiff and start to go forward and feel the back of the leg stretching I will either keep my spine straight or if I want to bend my spine I will bend the leg as well. And that keeps the movement safe instead of potentially damaging the lower back muscles, the structure of the spine itself or the spinal nerves.


Of course you can get away with doing this if you harden the abdomen with the muscles of exhalation. So if I breathe in here [See demonstration of breathing into the abdomen], and then exhale gently and relaxed as I’ve done there [See demonstration of relaxed exhalation] with the abdomen soft the lungs are not fully empty. Also, to exhale fully you are required to tighten the muscles of exhalation. These are circular muscles that go all around the bottom of the trunk. So you see my fingers in my abdomen now, if I tighten my exhalation muscles, the trunk moves inwards away from my fingers. So it’s like I’ve wrapped a belt around my lower waist. This gives a certain amount of abdominal firmness and protects my back if I’m doing a lifting exercise or a straining or stretching exercise.
But the problem is because I’ve used the muscles of exhalation to tighten my abdomen that straight away reciprocally relaxes or inhibits the main muscles of inhalation which is the diaphragm. So it means then with the diaphragm inhibited there is an inhibition of the organs that the diaphragm helps to control and stimulate, including the reproductive system, the immune system, and the digestive system.
Also with these belt muscles contracted and pulling the whole spine inwards it blocks the energy and information from the trunk to the legs. So then to pump the blood to the legs the heart has to work a lot harder, the lungs have to work a lot harder. So, the movements that I am trying to do should not have to tighten all of these things if I want to stay calm. In the Hatha Yoga tradition of India there is only one description of physical exercise. It’s only one sentence. It says “Sthiram Sukham Asanam”. It means physical exercise should be with firmness but with calmness. It’s learning how to do stressful things in a relaxing way. So to protect the back I need to be firm. But to keep calm diaphragmatic breathing and stimulation of the para-sympathetic nervous system is important. The funny thing is that once you learn this you will not only be protected but it will give you tremendous strength. So if someone is just tightening the abdomen like this [See demonstration of pulling the abdomen inwards] they cannot breathe from their diaphragm. So, then what tends to happen is that their chest expands. When the chest expands it makes the body weaker. If the abdomen expands it also makes the body weaker. So when you see adept practitioners of eastern forms of exercise including the Chinese Martial Arts or the Indian Hatha Yoga – there’s also Indian Martial Arts and Chinese Yoga as well, but they all relate – you never see adept practitioners expand their abdomen or their chest. You can use the analogy of the balloon which a child blows up as opposed to the tyre of a car, when you blow a balloon up it gets bigger but the walls actually get thinner and less strong. Whereas when you add more air to a car tyre the walls don’t get any larger but actually the more air coming into the tyre allows it to become much stronger. So you can actually put a ten tonne truck on a hard walled tyre filled with air but something which expands like a balloon will just burst if you put more air into it. So the chest and the abdomen are the same. An in-breath which expands the chest will only make the spine weaker. An in-breath which expands the abdomen will only make you weaker. So in the Martial Arts, in Hatha Yoga it’s always said that you should breathe diaphragmatically but with firmness. So if I breathe diaphragmatically standing normally the abdomen puffs out. But if all I do is push the sitting bones forward the front of the abdomen automatically goes firm and the sides are relaxed. Then if I breathe into the abdomen it doesn’t move but because it’s a diaphragmatic breath I stay calm.

The same principle is used in things like handstands. So if I bring my arms up in the air initially and lengthen the spine, slightly extending the spine as well, and then bring my hands to the floor, as I moving towards the floor I am pushing the hips forward throughout. I lean onto the hands and lift the head up. Lifting the upper back and pushing the sitting bones towards the hands firms the front of the abdomen. Simply breathing into my abdomen (firmed by posture), or rather breathing with my diaphragm into the abdomen causes an increase in the intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure which straight away puts strength into my arms. Here I simply breathe into the abdomen as my legs are lifting and the instant strength comes to the body. It doesn’t feel like a strain to lift the body. Whereas you can lift up to a handstand with just brute force.

A lot of weightlifters will do lifting exercises using what’s called a Valsalva manoeuvre. Where you make an in-breath then hold the breath and then tense all the muscles of exhalation. In so doing you also increase intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure and intra-cranial pressure as well. This gives you more strength in the arms but the problem is that a weightlifters blood pressure has been shown to go up from a normal level of 120/70 to extreme levels of 380/360. And so there’s a risk then that if you use the Valsalva manoeuvre for strength exercises such as lifting weights or handstands that you risk bursting a blood vessel in your head, or your heart, have a heart attack or a stroke and just increase a lot of stress at the same time. So the trick is to remain very calm and breathe with your diaphragm into an abdomen firmed by posture (as opposed to tension).

In this part, Simon Borg-Olivier, explains the benefits of breathing less than normal (hypoventilation) and role of increased levels of carbon di-oxide in increasing circulation of blood to the brain and other parts of the body, as well as increasing the transfer of oxygen into the cells of the body (via the Bohr effect). It is also possible to use the muscles of breathing and the breath itself for other reasons, for example you can use the muscle of breathing to help relax muscles, to increase strength and to mobilise the spine, and this can include sometimes breathing more than normal. However, the most important reason to breathe is to get oxygen to the cells this is done best when you increase carbon di-oxide levels by breathing less than normal, or at least by breathing naturally.

Edited Video Transcript and Notes:

One of the deepest movements that is considered to be a tremendous cleansing exercise, called in India Hatha Yoga a Kriya, is Nauli, which uses the movements of the hips to activate the spinal muscles and turns your trunk into one heart. So the same way the heart will work to pump the blood, by compressing the first chamber and pushing the blood to the second chamber, second chamber of the heart expands and pulls the blood from the first to the second. You can make your spine move the same way. So I will demonstrate (in the next Blog – Spinal Movement Sequence (Part 24)) making the right side of my abdomen firm and the left side relaxed, pushing the blood from the right to the left side. Then the left side of the abdomen firm and the right side relaxed so it pushes the blood the other way. This movement then is exactly what I was doing in the side and forward bend but in a much more rapid and direct way. This exercise is done without breathing. This exercise is done while holding the breath out which builds tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide inside the body. Physiologically carbon dioxide reacts in very positive ways:

1. Carbon dioxide increases the diameter of the blood vessels that go to the brain, so you get more oxygen to your brain.

2. Carbon dioxide increases the blood vessel diameter going to the heart, so actually you get more blood and more oxygen to your brain and to your heart when you’re holding the breath out for a long time, and for a longer period of time holding the breath in.

3. Carbon dioxide, when it builds up in the form of carbonic acid, will cause the vessels that go to your lungs to expand. So, say for example if someone has asthma the constriction in the vessels going to the lungs often calls for a puffing device and these drugs are not necessarily going to be helpful for you in the long run. But if you simply answer the call of nature when you have an asthma attack, which is making your lungs give a wheezing affect, it’s the body telling you to stop breathing, that it’s hard to breathe, so stop. It’s often a surprise to a person who is asthmatic that if they just stop breathing for a minute and allow carbon dioxide to build up this immediately bronchodilates the vessels to the lungs and then an in-breath is much easier.

4. The other significant effect of carbon dioxide build up is called a Bohr effect. The Bohr effect means that carbon dioxide is necessary to be present in any part of the body for haemoglobin to actually deposit its oxygen molecule when it arrives. So, say for example the big toe needs oxygen. You might be able to get blood to the big toe but if there is no carbon dioxide in your big toe then the haemoglobin will then just leave with its oxygen because it needs to swap it for the carbon dioxide. This is a lay explanation, but it helps makes people appreciate that exercise is not something where you are trying to breathe more. Actually fitness comes if you can do more but breathe less. A physically fit person is one who can run 100 metres the same time and distance as someone who is not as fit, but you can tell they are fit because they are not breathing so much and their heart is not beating so much at the end.

So the adept Yogi is considered to measure their lifespan not by the number of years they live but rather by the number of breaths they take and by the number of beats their heart makes. So by practising in this way any sort of exercise, including simple walking, movements which cause the hips and shoulders to cause a firmness to come to the spine giving you core stabilisation, while breathing diaphragmatically this helps increase blood flow while not increasing heart rate. The other thing is that the more you learn to breathe less in your physical exercise practise while still emptying the lungs periodically , this builds up an acidity and that acidity, a gentle acidity of carbonic acid – it means you don’t crave to have acidity in your diet and you can eat a lot less. Whereas most people do the opposite. Most people breathe so much in exercise because often we are told to do so and this makes them very alkaline.

Hyper-ventilation makes you alkaline. This then makes you crave, after your exercise, acidic foods which are the more stodgy foods, the high protein foods, the processed foods, and drugs. So by breathing less and learning to hold the breath in as I’ll demonstrate now (in the next blog – Spinal Movement Sequence (Part 24)) while still doing exercise you get lots of benefits.

In this part, Simon Borg-Olivier explains that ‘core stabilisation’ (or the ability to firm the abdomen) should allow ‘core mobilisation’ (or freedom of movement). He shows how many people often tighten their abdomen using their muscles of forced abdominal exhalation in a way that inhibits their diaphragm from behaving naturally, causes excessive tension in their spine and trunk that can inhibit circulation and can actually prevent the relief of some back pain, and prevents the natural movement of spine and internal organs.

Edited Video Transcript with Notes:

Learning how to become stable in the trunk, keeping what conventional exercise call core stabilisation, it is really important to keep your spine safe whenever you are doing exercise or lifting work. But, often when people do it, especially with too much force and conscious control, then the muscles that they use to tighten the abdomen, which gives some protection for the spine will inhibit the muscles that we use to breathe in and keep us calm. This main muscles of breathing in is the diaphragm, which sits below the chest like a dome. As the diaphragm becomes active it moves downwards as it contracts and that makes the space above the diaphragm become essentially like a partial vacuum that pulls air inwards. But the diaphragm downwards movement pushes the abdomen outwards. So if you just stand relaxed and breathe in with your diaphragm the downwards movement of the diaphragm will cause air to come in and the tummy to puff out.

For most people if they breathe with the chest that’s only possible for most people if they’ve kept their abdomen firm using the muscles of exhalation. Many people in exercise will tighten their abdominal muscles in a way which inhibits the diaphragm. One muscle or muscle group will always inhibit the muscle group which is opposite in action. So the muscle that makes you breathe in to the abdomen (the diaphragm) will make the muscles that make you breathe out from the abdomen (transverse abdominus, abdominal external oblique and abdominal internal oblique) relax or ‘switch off’. Conversely, the muscles that make you breathe out from the abdomen (transverse abdominus, abdominal external oblique and abdominal internal oblique), when they’re active, will make the muscle that make you breathe in (the diaphragm), relax or ‘switch off’. So if you simply relax your abdomen it is possible to breathe in with the diaphragm, you’ll see my chest hardly move and the abdomen comes out. But if you exhale all the way which uses the muscles of forced exhalation, those muscles which include the external oblique muscles which you saw me demonstrate (in a previous video) and I’ll demonstrate again here now. So, I visualise these muscles called the external oblique muscles by doing exactly the same muscular grip that we do when we fully exhale which basically just takes the trunk and uses the circular muscles to just constrict and narrow. It’s like you’re trying to blow the air out by squeezing all of this region of the lower trunk. Many people will use those muscles, the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation, to stabilise and strengthen the spine, protect their back during lifting exercises and bending exercises. But the problem is that if these muscles are always kept active (switched on) then you are not able to comfortably use your diaphragm. The lack of diaphragm use will mean that the internal organs, the reproductive system, the immune system, the digestive system in particular, will not be functioning normally during your exercise and probably not functioning properly  during everyday life.

In addition when the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation are engaged strongly then it is very difficult to mobilise the spine, which means that the spine will feel stiff. If this happens in someone with back pain then Real Time Ultrasound (RTU) studies by physiotherapists and other researchers have repeatedly shown that it probably not improve the back pain and it may in fact be contributing to the back pain.


See also this post of Simon and Bianca and the breath

Breathing (Part 1): How to breathe to help your spine, internal organs and energy levels

Simon Borg-Olivier MSc BAppSc (Physiotherapy) is a Co-Director of Yoga Synergy, one of Australia’s oldest and most respected yoga schools. The Yoga Synergy style is based on a deep understanding of yoga anatomy, yoga physiology and traditional Hatha Yoga. Simon has been teaching since 1982. He is a registered physiotherapist, a research scientist and a university lecturer. Simon has been regularly invited to teach at special workshops and conferences interstate and overseas since 1990.



Simon Borg-Oliver and His business partner Bianca Machliss


See also

an online course, which is looking tempting.

Yoga Synergy Online Teacher Training and Education

Preview of Simon's excellent book Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga

See also my earlier post on Simon's book

The nine bandhas (yes Nine) in the APPLIED ANATOMY & PHYSIOLOGY OF YOGA of Simon Borg-oliver and Bianca Machliss

And this just in a blogtalkradio interview today

Five Things that Block Energy and 10 Ways to Move Them With Simon Borg-Olivier



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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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