This chapter contains a very basic summary of the body’s structures and functions. It is important in the practice of yoga to gain an understanding of how the body works. It will enable you to acquire a clearer understanding of why the postures are done from a physical standpoint, along with why they benefit the total body-mind complex. Remember, as the body is affected the mind is also affected. A healthy body brings about a healthy mind. The following is a brief outline of the body systems and the various organs comprising them.
ANATOMICAL & PHYSIOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF ASANA PRACTICE
There are numerous physiological benefits from the practice of Hatha Yoga. To be a successful teacher you need to understand how asana affects the body and be able to communicate this clearly to your students. The following are just some of the many benefits of hatha practice.
-THE CIRCULATORY SYSTEM-
Hatha practice beneficially affects the circulatory system in many ways. Asana in- creases the blood flow to the areas of the body affected by the pose. It also sends blood, nutrients, oxygen, and prana to the cells, tissues, organs and glands. The cells are oxidized, which has a cleansing and soothing effect on the entire system. The deep breath- ing that accompanies asana practice brings an increased amount of oxygen into the body and accelerates the amount of carbon dioxide that is released. This deep breathing and elimination cycle purifies the blood. As the muscles are lengthened or contracted, held, and then released, this fresh blood is then flushed back into them.
Asana assists in regulating the entire circulatory system. As you move in and out of each pose and sustain the hold, circulation is increased and the heart muscle is gently exercised. If an individual has sluggish circulation, the consistent practice of hatha yoga can help to regulate the circulation so it becomes more vitalized. Asana can also increase circulation to specific areas of the body that may lack sufficient blood flow.
As a pose is released, the body and mind relax. Relaxation enables the cells to more easily catabolize oxygen and absorb more generous amounts of prana. This is why re- storative poses, such as savasana, are integral to fully experiencing deep yogic relax- ation and realizing the greatest possible benefits from yoga practice. To completely re- lax, the body needs to assume a passive, unbiased position such as savasana. This is one of the reasons savasana is sometimes used to open a class and is always recommended at the end of a class. Some hatha yoga teachers even use it between poses.
Yoga Practice Exercises the Heart and Increases Circulation
Many people think that you must do aerobic exercise to strengthen the heart and increase circulation. This is not true. Hatha yoga accomplishes these goals, but it is not an aerobic exercise. There are certain requirements that an exercise system must have in order to be considered aerobic, for example, the heart must beat at a given rate for a specific period of time. The closest asana practice comes to resembling an aerobic style exercise would be the practice of a vinyasa, such as the sun salutation. However, hatha does gently exercise the heart and increase circulation.
Page 2 During aerobic exercise, the body’s supply of oxygen and nutrients is burned up by the energy demand of strenuous activity. During yoga practice, this does not occur. The blood is rejuvenated instead of depleted. It receives an energy bonus rather than an oxygen debt.
As circulation is increased, the cells of the body not only receive more oxygen but also a more generous supply of pranic energy. Cells are the basic unit of life in the body. Healthy cells produce healthy tissue, which produces healthy organs, which produce healthy systems in the body. Through asana practice, the circulation is increased and the cells of the body are nourished with oxygen and nutrients, which in turn increases the body’s vitality. This increase in vitality improves health and results in a more positive, creative attitude toward life. In essence, when the building blocks of the body, the cells, are strengthened, your entire being will respond.
The flow of venous blood in the lower extremities is dependent on the activity of the skeletal muscles. Asana practice contracts the skeletal muscles and this gently presses down on the veins, pumping blood back to the heart more vigorously. The increase in blood flow, which results from the muscular contractions, fills the heart more fully, caus- ing it to contract more forcefully. Consequently, more blood is pumped out. (In physiol- ogy, this action is known as Starling’s Law of the Heart). This stronger contraction of the cardiac muscle stimulates quicker and deeper breathing, resulting in greater ventilation of the lungs. In this way, the cells of the body are invigorated and nourished.
Varicose veins are caused by the heart’s inability to maintain a proper blood flow. Circulation in the veins is stimulated by muscular activity. If you are inactive, blood accumulates in the legs and can cause the veins to bulge. Once varicose veins are formed, yoga cannot cure them, but it can offer relief from the symptoms and prevent further deterioration.
Fully inverted asanas reverse the pull of gravity on the body, increase circulation in the legs, and take the pressure off of them. When done properly, inverted poses also increase blood flow to the head, face, and neck, stimulating many of the glands in this area. (A note of caution: If a student has high or low blood pressure, a physician or health practitioner should be consulted for guidance prior to asana practice.)
-THE MUSCULAR SYSTEM-
The following information about the muscular system applies when asanas are done as a system of slow progressive movements and not in a hard calisthenic fashion.
Asanas are performed to tone muscle, not to build muscle. Good tone means that a muscle is strong enough to fulfill its function in the movement of the body when needed, and then is able to relax completely. Someone who builds muscle does not necessarily tone it. Building muscles creates an inflexibility in the muscles that can hamper body movement. An oversized bicep is actually inflexible, hardened muscle tissue--just the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish through yoga practice.
Asana practice tones muscles. Toning muscle does not damage the muscle tissue. It creates a more ideal functioning of the muscle, enabling it to support the skeletal structure more efficiently. This in turn allows movement to become more fluid without put- ting unnecessary stress on the body. Remember, the purpose of the musculature is to align the bones so that they (and not the muscles) bear the weight of the body in a balanced way. This allows the body to experience greater range of motion and comfort.
Yoga Practice Cultivates Greater Flexibility and Range of Motion
Many people live in a constant state of muscle tension that drains their energy and produces exhaustion or even illness. Asana relieves muscular tension by means of the slow contraction and lengthening of certain muscle groups. The muscles are stretched for a length of time and then are allowed to relax and regenerate. This allows the muscles to absorb and be enriched by nutrients, oxygen, and prana. As the muscles become more flexible, toned, supple, and charged with greater amounts of prana, a sense of well- being and youthfulness is attained. (Students always enjoy knowing that yoga will make them look and feel more youthful.)
The elasticity of a muscle can be extended within its normal limits. One of the goals of asana practice is to work the muscles and increase their resting length. If done consistently, the static stretching of Hatha Yoga, where a pose is held for a period of time, can help to increase the resting length of the muscles. This makes them more flexible and resilient. Most forms of aerobic exercise will not do this.
Asana induces greater flexibility faster than other methods because each stretch extends the normal elasticity limit of the muscles gently, thoroughly, and in a relaxed manner. This makes the body suppler and reduces fatigue.
Page 4 Fatigue is a byproduct of lactic acid building up in the muscles and blood stream. When a person aerobically exercises and there is not enough oxygen for the muscles to meet the energy demands of the body, lactic acid is the byproduct. When lactic acid accumulates in the muscle tissue due to an oxygen deficiency, we say that the body has gone into oxygen debt.
Yoga is done slowly and is accompanied by deep breathing. Thus there is less lactic acid buildup than with more vigorous forms of exercise which produce fatigue. During asana practice, oxygen is made available so that excess lactic acid can be oxidized and no oxygen debt is created.
Yoga Practice Strengthens the Tendons, Ligaments, and Muscles
Asana is designed to work with opposing muscle groups. When we work with these agonist and antagonist muscles, one contracts or shortens while the other is lengthened. For example, when one performs a pose such as paschimottanasana, the hamstrings are lengthened or extended while the quadriceps are shortened. When one performs salabhasana, the quadriceps are lengthened or extended while the hamstrings are shortened. These two asanas work well together to stretch and tone a set of agonist and antagonist muscles — the hamstrings and quadriceps.
Improper posture, lack of exercise, and poor living habits can shorten or tighten the muscles in the body and decrease their range of motion. Asana practice strengthens and lengthens the muscles, promoting optimum health and range of motion.
Asana tones and works the muscles so they do not atrophy. Inactivity of the muscu- lature causes muscle tissue to shorten and become flabby. This causes the muscle fibers to deteriorate and begin to lose strength, tone, and the ability to properly and efficiently support the skeleton. Shortened muscles also pull the body out of alignment, causing it to overwork unnecessarily. Asana practice activates, strengthens, and tones the muscles, keeping the body functioning with less effort. This conserves energy and helps to allevi- ate the exhaustion which many people experience.
Yoga practice strengthens the tendons and ligaments, keeping them healthier and more flexible. Tendons are connective tissue that bind muscle to bone, and ligaments are fibrous bands or sheets of connective tissue that bind bone to other bones. They are not as easily stretched as actual muscle tissue. If a person’s posture and balance are good, the tendons and ligaments will remain strong and elastic, supporting the skeleton more efficiently.
Page 5 The action of muscles can be compared to that of a sponge. When they are lengthened or contracted fluids are released. (The term “squeezed” is often used to refer to this action.) The muscles must be flexible and soft (relaxed) in order to reabsorb the fluids that they need. When the muscles become short and tight, they cannot relax and fully absorb the needed fluids. Yoga practice trains the muscles to become soft and resilient. It gently squeezes the muscles, but unlike other forms of exercise, asana practice allows the body to relax completely afterwards. During deep relaxation, the blood is allowed to flow back into the muscles, and there is a quiet, relaxing effect.
-THE SPINAL COLUMN & SKELETAL SYSTEM-
The spine is central to our anatomy; all functions of the body are connected to it in some way. The role of the spine is analogous to the role of the trunk of a tree. When the spine remains strong, healthy, and flexible, it creates stability in the rest of the body, promoting physical and mental well-being.
There is an old axiom that says, “You are only as young as your spine is flexible.” This is one of the reasons the spine is such a central focus in yoga practice. Not only is it a conduit for the flow of prana into the body and nervous system, but it is one of the most important sections of the anatomy because it allows us to move, turn, rotate, and live in an incredibly mobile way. The more flexible the spine remains throughout our life, the more mobile and flexible our entire body will be.
Asana aligns and lengthens the spinal column, allowing greater flexibility and range of motion. Keeping the spine flexible increases the circulation to it and also massages the inner articulations of the spine. This stimulates the muscles and nerves and increases the blood flow to the entire spinal area.
If you watch animals, you will notice that they flex their spine upon awakening. They know instinctively that a flexible spine is important in maintaining physical health. As we age, our spines tend to stiffen because the ligaments become tighter. This affects our entire body. The cause of this can be many things such as poor posture, poor bal- ance, and other degenerative factors. This is minimized by yoga practice through the gentle flexion and extension of the spine.
Many people sit all day at a desk with their heads thrust forward. This awkward position tends to shorten certain ligaments and tendons in the neck and spine. The spine compensates for this by forming a rounded back. This shortening and tightening of the ligaments and tendons compresses and irritates the nerves and can cause headaches, and neck and shoulder pain. Asana realigns the spine and alleviates this pressure.
Page 6 To illustrate the importance of good posture, consider some of the effects of poor posture. Poor posture crowds the heart and lungs, diminishing respiratory and cardiac function. It also detracts from one’s appearance, makes one tire more easily, produces an abnormal pull on ligaments, joints, and bones, and can lead to skeletal deformities.
Yoga Practice Decompresses the Spine
The spine must be continually loosened and exercised. Otherwise the vertebrae tend to become compressed and squeezed together into smaller and smaller areas of the spine. This condition is not uncommon in older people. Asana helps to alleviate stiffness in the spine, loosens the vertebrae, and creates a healthier “space” between them. This decompresses the spine, helping to alleviate tension in the muscles, tendons, and joints.
A healthy spine contains four natural curves, sometimes called an s-curve — two are concave (lumbar and cervical) and two are convex (coccyx and thoracic). Ideally all four should be preserved with no excess compression on the vertebrae or curving in other areas of the spine. Asana helps in maintaining elongation of the spine and thus the proper curvature.
Yoga Practice Helps Maintain Healthy Joints
Proper joint articulation is important for flexibility and overall health. Asana practice helps to keep the articulation of the joints soft rather than hard and brittle.
Joints allow for the independent movement of specific parts of the body. As our muscles become tense, the spaces between the joints become compressed. In extreme cases, the synovial membrane can become damaged and cartilage can wear down (arthritis). Prolonged muscular tension can also cause joint pain of various types and degrees. Proper alignment and muscle tone, which are achieved through asana practice, help to alleviate this and yield greater flexibility. The gentle stretching of the asanas relaxes the body and mind, releases tension, and creates a sense of space for movement around every joint in the body. This in turn allows for a freer flow of prana.
Osteoarthritis is anatomically characterized by a progressive destruction of the articular cartilages which cover the bone. When these cartilages disappear, the ends of the bones fuse together and the articulation of the joint disappears. Yoga practice can soothe sore muscles and joints that result from arthritis, because asana stimulates the secretion of synovial fluid, keeping the joints lubricated and minimizing any possible damage to the cartilage or bone itself.
Page 7 Though arthritis is not always curable, asana can help to retard its progress through the gentle stimulation of the joints and the loosening of calcium deposits. People with arthritis often find that stretching their joints, ligaments, and tendons helps to soothe or alleviate the inflammation and pain experienced in arthritis. Yoga is perfect for this.
Because yoga helps to lubricate and exercise the joints, it is not unusual to hear cracking sounds in the joints during asana practice. Though at times this may simply be the ligaments passing over the bones, it may also be calcium deposits breaking up.
-EFFECTS & BENEFITS OF SAVASANA-
Relaxation is integral to yoga practice. It has been said that if you cannot relax, you truly cannot do yoga. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika it is written: “Lying down on the ground like a corpse is called savasana. It removes fatigue and gives rest to the mind.” In the Gheranda Samhita it is written: “Lying flat on the ground on the back like a corpse is called mrtasana. This posture destroys fatigue and quiets the agitations of the mind.”
Savasana assists in eliminating unnecessary tension in the body (even basal tension). Because there is so little energy or prana being directed towards bodily activities and functions, it can be used to rejuvenate the cells and organs of the body and mind. There is a peaceful relaxation and recharging of mind and body in savasana. In total relaxation, spiritual, intellectual and creative energies can be released (and stored).
The heart rate and metabolism are slowed down in savasana, and the cells are regenerated.
The deep respiration cycle of savasana nourishes the cells with oxygen and assists in the elimination of tension producing carbon dioxide.
Deep breathing brings venous blood to the lungs. It also enables the base of the lungs to expand and absorb greater quantities of this venous blood.
Savasana decreases the blood pressure. In savasana the digestive organs are relaxed, rejuvenated, and fed oxygen and prana.
Savasana rejuvenates the endocrine glands. It slows down the release of hormones relating to bodily activities, resting the glands. This reduces stress on the body and mind.
Page 8 During savasana and yoga practice the brain releases endorphines which bring about a feeling of well-being and heightened awareness.
Savasana relaxes the joints of the body, particularly the spine.
Both voluntary and involuntary muscles are relaxed during savasana.
Nerve cells are invigorated during savasana. They are relieved for a time of their burden of directing the body’s movements and transmitting sensory messages. They are there- fore allowed to recuperate at maximum speed.
The connections or impulses between the brain and spinal cord are limited during savasana. This reduces the consumption of nerve impulses. The sensory and motor nerves are shut down and relaxed. First the motor nerves fall into a state of relaxation and then the sensory nerves. This produces a sensation of detachment. You get the feeling of float- ing. You begin to lose the sensation of gravity and body weight. This produces a feeling of total relaxation. Using the analogy of a puppet on strings (the strings being the motor and sensory nerves), when the strings are momentarily disconnected, it allows the body to completely rest.
Living in the city we experience the unconscious contraction of muscles in the jaw, neck, shoulders, hips, and knees. This tension is released in savasana.
During the deep breathing associated with savasana the hormones in the blood system (which must be either oxidized or excreted after exerting their influence) are harmoniously released.
Savasana helps to make your body more flexible during asana practice. If savasana is done at the start of practice or between poses it can assist in stretching (without strain- ing), and making poses easier to attain with less effort. During asana practice the muscles are stretched and blood squeezed out. During savasana, blood flows back into the muscles nourishing the nerves and muscles. It also increases the flow of prana to the nerves and muscles.
Page 9/10 Savasana neutralizes lactic acid buildup (lactic acid is a byproduct of the metabolism of oxygen and sugar in the blood). Deep breathing and relaxation aid in eliminating lactic acid from the cells (through the lungs).
Through savasana, prana is directed to the nerves of the spine, brain and peripheral nervous system as well as the autonomic nervous system relaxing and regenerating them.
In savasana, as the Ida and Pingala nadis start to become balanced, spiritual energies are released. This brings quietude, peace, and healing to the body and mind.
Heavy emotions are like shock waves on the nervous system and can lead to a degeneration of the endocrine glands. Emotions place great stress and strain on the entire body and can break down its natural immune defenses. In savasana, we become aware and learn to “let go” of emotions, not to repress them, but to release them. Savasana helps to momentarily dissolve this emotional energy, relaxing the organs of the body, and relieving stress in the body and mind.
The Bare Bones: Spinal Column and Skeletal System
Base of the skull as opposed to the back of the head
Rib Cage – the bones of the vertebral column (spine), ribs and sternum (breast- bone).
• 12 pairs of ribs; the lower two pairs “float” and are not connected to the carti- lage that composes the junction between the ribs and the sternum.
The shoulder joint, a ball and socket joint, consists of the scapula (shoulder blade) and the humerus.
In your literature, there are often instructions to “keep the inner edges of the shoulder blades drawn toward the hips” or “the inner edges of the scapulae are drawn down the back”.
Note: Your instructors may ask you to move the “inner head of the humerus” or “the outer head of the humerus”. The humerus has excellent mobility at the shoulder joint. The head of the humerus is the ball of the ball and socket joint.
The spine is a central focus in yoga practice. • cervical spine (C1 through C7) • thoracic spine (T1 through T12) • lumbar spine (L1 through L5) • sacrum • coccyx (tailbone)
The sacrum is composed of five vertebrae fused together (between ages 16 and 25) to form a triangular bone.
The coccyx (tailbone), also triangular, is composed of four rudimentary vertebrae (fused together between the ages of 20 and 30 years).
The hip bone consists of three fused bones • the ilium is the upper anterior part • the ischium is the lower posterior part •the pubis is the front of the pelvis
The paired hip bones constitute the pelvic girdle. The two hip bones and the sacrum constitute the pelvis.
You will find the following terms used in your literature and in class: • sitting bones (ischium) • pubic bone (pubis)
The hip joint, another ball and socket synovial joint is where the femur bone meets the hip bone.
The “head of the femur” is the ball of the ball and socket joint.
The patellae are the kneecaps.
The “ball mounts of the fingers” are at the base of the fingers. The “ball mounts of the toes” are at the base of the toes.
Page 13 Muscular System Terminology Sternocleidomastoid (lateral neck muscle) - tilts the head to the side; rotates the head; lifts the chin; move the head forward
Trapezius (back of the neck, upper/mid back) – square the shoulders (move the scapulae toward one another), shrug the shoulders, depress the shoulders, lift or reach over- head
Deltoid (shoulder/upper arm) – powerful mover of the humerus at the shoulder joint in flexion, extension and abduction
Biceps Brachii (front of the upper arm) – a flexor of the elbow joint
Triceps Brachii (back of the upper arm) – the principal extensor of the elbow joint
Intercostal muscles (between the ribs) – alter the dimensions of the thoracic cavity by collectively moving the ribs, resulting in 25% of the respiratory effort
Iliopsoas (buried deep in the body connecting the pelvis to the femur bone) – a strong flexor of the hip joint; a powerful flexor of the lumbar vertebrae, a weak psoas may contribute to low back pain
Diaphragm – a broad, thin muscle that is a dome-shaped partition between the thoracic and abdominal cavities; the principle muscle of respiration; forms the floor of the thoracic cavity and the roof of the abdominal cavity; during respiration, descends as it contracts and ascends as it relaxes
Gluteus maximus (the most superficial muscle of the buttocks) – extends the hip joint during running and walking uphill, but does not act in relaxed walking; the large sciatic nerve runs deep into it
Hamstrings* (a group of three muscles of the posterior thigh) – equally effective at both extension of the hip joint and flexion of the knee joint; active during normal walking, inactive in relaxed standing; reduced hamstring stretch (“tight hamstrings”) limits hip flexion with the knee extended (flexion of the knee permits increased hip flexion); tight hamstrings tilt the pelvis backwards, flattening the lordotic curve of the lower back
Page 14 Quadriceps (a group of four muscles of the anterior thigh) – one is a flexor of the hip joint, all four are extensors of the knee joint; all four converge on the base of the patella
Gastrocnemius (the major calf muscle) – flexes the knee and plantarflexes (when stand- ing, lifting up onto the ball mounts of the toes) the ankle joint
*called hamstrings after a procedure for cutting the tendons of these muscles in certain domestic animals
Page 15 TERMS AND ACTIONS
Groin depth The groin is the crescent-shaped crease between the thigh and hip. If the femur is to- wards the quadriceps, the groin will feel tight and full. The natural placement for the femur is toward the hamstring. This placement creates depth to the crease of the groin.
Groin length Once the groin depth has been established, length can be created between the pelvic rim and the thigh without disturbing the depth of the groin.
Femur groundingBringing the head of the femur into the center of the back of the hip socket.
ExtensionIn asana terms, extension can be used generically; it can be used to describe the length- ening of any body part. When referring to the spine, extension means that the front of the spine is longer than the back of the spine.
FlexionMore generically, flexion can be used to refer to any muscular contraction. When refer- ring to the spine, flexion means that the back of the spine is longer than the front of the spine.
Internal rotation Referencing from the front body, internal rotation of the legs is when the outer leg ro- tates towards the inner leg. Often, in asana terms, this term is also used to refer to the neutral position of the legs.
External rotation1. Using the front of the body as a reference, external rotation of the legs is when theinner leg rotates towards the outer leg.
2. Using the front of the body as a reference, external rotation of the shoulder is when the inner arm rotates towards the outer arm. If the arms are extended over the head, the action of the arms is reversed, though the action in the shoulder joint is the same. This seeming reversal of the action is only perceptual, caused by the change in arm position.
Page 16 LordosisThis is the natural concavity of the lumbar and cervical spine. If the concavity is greater than normal, the term “hyper” is used as a prefix. If the concavity is less than normal, the term “hypo” is used as a prefix.
Kyphosis This is the natural convex state of the thoracic and sacral areas of the spine. If the convex- ity is greater than normal, the prefix “hyper” is used. If the convexity is less than normal, the prefix “hypo” is used.
ScolliosisThis is a lateral curvature of the spine. It is an anomaly of the spine of which there are many variations.
Muscle toneGood muscle tone is a muscle’s ability to hold a partly contracted state for a given period of time and then relax again. If a muscle cannot fully relax, it is said to be hyper- tonic. If a muscle cannot flex effectively, it is said to be hypotonic. It is possible for a muscle to have some element of both hyper and hypo tone.
Action and resistanceIn order to control any action, some form of resistance is needed. Begin to observe through- out your asana practice where the resistance comes from to stabilize each action.
ActionThis term implies an isometric movement. This means that there is no overt movement of any part of the body, but there is still activity in the musculature.
MovementThis term implies that some part of the body is actually changing its position.
Terms of Movement
Movements of bones occur at joints: Flexion of a joint is to bend it or decrease the angle between the bones of the joint. When referring to the spine, flexion means that the back of the spine is longer than the front of the spine.
Extension of a joint is generally to straighten it. Extreme, even abnormal extension is called hyper-extension. When referring to the spine, extension means the front of the spine is longer than the back of the spine.
Abduction moves a bone away from the midline of the body.
Adduction of a joint moves a bone toward the midline of the body.
Internal Rotation (Medial Rotation) is to turn the moving bone about its axis toward the body.
• Referencing from the front body, internal rotation of the legs is when the outer leg rotates toward the inner leg. Often, in asana terms, this term is also used to refer to the neutral position of the legs.
External Rotation (Lateral Rotation) is to turn the moving bone about its axis away from the body. • Using the front of the body as a reference, external rotation of the legs is when the inner leg rotates toward the outer leg. • Using the front of the body as a reference, external rotation of the shoulders is when the inner arm rotates toward the outer arm. If the arms are extended over the head, the action of the arms is reversed; though the action in the shoulder joint is the same. This seeming reversal of the action is only percep- tual, caused by the change in arm position.
Flexion – from the shoulder joint, lift your arm forward Extension – from the shoulder, lift the arm behind you Abduction – from the shoulder joint, lift your arm out to the side Adduction – from the shoulder joint, move your arm toward the midline of the body Internal rotation – from the shoulder joint, move the humerus bone about its axis toward the body External rotation – from the shoulder joint, move the humerus bone about its axis away from the body
The Respiratory System
• Breathe through the nostrils. The lining of the nose filters dust and moistens the inhaled air.
• The right lung, divided into three lobes, is slightly bigger than the left lung, which has only two lobes (the heart is on the left side).
• The ribs are moved up and down by 11 pairs of intercostal muscles.
• The thoracic cavity is separated from the abdominal cavity by the diaphragm (a sheet of muscle attached at various points forming a complete partition).
• Control of respiration is both voluntary and involuntary.
• 14 to 18 respirations per minute are normal; when you are settled into a pose, your breathing will slow to 6 to 8 breaths per minute.
• The breath is the thread that links the body, the mind and the spirit.
• If your respiratory system is challenged, use supported and restorative poses.
• When we are young, our lungs have elasticity; if you can maintain the elasticity, you can maintain your health.
• When you are practicing yoga, you are utilizing more of the volume of the lungs.
• Benefits to the respiratory system of the various asanas: 1. standing postures – stimulate the lungs 2. inverted postures – strengthen the lungs 3. forward bends – relax the lungs 4. twists – train you to use one lung at a time 5. backbends – stimulate and have an aerobic effect on the lungs
The Nervous System and Yoga
The Nervous System is the communication network within the body. The nervous system allows us to make sense of our place in the world and coordinates every function received and performed as human beings.
(Refer to the Negative Feedback Loop to enhance your understanding.)
Central Nervous System: The command center of the body, divided into two parts: the brain and the spinal cord.
Peripheral Nervous System: Consists of nerves radiating from the spinal cord to muscles, internal organs and skin that branch out into fine nerve endings. The motor neurons (efferent fibers) carry instructions to every muscle; the sensory neurons (afferent fibers) bring in information from every receptor.
The Somatic Nervous System: The part of the peripheral nervous system associated with the voluntary control of body movements through the actions of the skeletal muscles (for example, coordinating our movements during asana practice). Asana practice can actually stimulate the growth/re-growth of nerve endings and promote awareness and sensitivity. The practice of asana helps us control the somatic nervous system to the point where we can access the autonomic nervous system and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system or “relaxation response”.
The Autonomic Nervous System: The part of the peripheral nervous system that regulates the organs (“the viscera”) of our body, such as the heart, stomach and intestines. The autonomic nervous system is involuntary (cannot be controlled by the mind) and is divided into two subsystems; the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, which work in tandem, either in a synergistic or antagonistic way.
The Sympathetic Nervous System is responsible for priming the body for action (fight or flight). Nerves of the sympathetic nervous system connect into major organs, glands and other nerves. Messages traveling thru the sympathetic nervous system can trigger changes in different parts of the body simultaneously. For example, the SNS can: • accelerate heart rate • widen bronchial passages • decrease movement of the large intestine • constrict blood vessels • cause pupil dilation • raise blood pressure
Page 24/25 While these changes in the body can be beneficial in helping us in certain situations, when we live with too much stress in our daily lives the body may begin to live in this fight or flight mode.
Yoga actually serves as tool to help the body re-learn how to rest and relax between stressful events. These tasks are under the control of the parasympathetic system (relaxation response).
The Parasympathetic Nervous System influences organs toward restoration and the saving of energy. The parasympathetic nervous system can: • lower heart rate • contract bronchial muscle • increase intestinal activity • divert blood back to the skin • constrict pupils • lower blood pressure
Yoga is a practice of balancing opposites: • proper muscle stimulation and muscle relaxation • heightened nerve sensitivity and relaxation of the nervous system • proper breathing which invigorates nerves and soothes the nervous system
Deep, prolonged inhalation stimulates several effects of the sympathetic nervous system, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. Deep, prolonged exhalation tends to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which again has many effects, including the temporary drop in heart rate and blood pressure.
Modifying the focus toward the inhalation or the exhalation will shift the energetic result of a hatha yoga practice. Focusing on the inhalation (stimulating the sympathetic nervous system) tends to energize; focusing on the exhalation (calling for the rest and digest response of the parasympathetic nervous system) is relaxing and releases stress.