A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

A body is so complex, complete and incomprehensively perfect, alive and whole. An organism that regenerates, integrates, is self aware and self healing, self regulating and self conscious. A body that heals and knows what it needs to boost and nourish itself, on every level. Improving posture directly affects our breath and transforms our wellbeing.

THE BODYMIND CONNECTION

Here’s another article celebrating the natural beauty, intelligence and ability of our bodies. Science has no way of recreating such a perfect organism apart from the power of procreation. But science can help us understand its intricacy and teach us how to intimately work with it. Every challenge that arises in our life invites us to grow. The consciousness of our bodymind attracts these teachings, so we can step into a bigger, brighter and more brilliant version of ourselves. Whether we feel ready to take on the challenge depends on our self-image, self-confidence and self-awareness. These 3 self’s depend on our wellbeing. Our state of mind, emotions and stance of body Self-confidence and awareness are intimately connected to our breath. And our breath is affected by our stance in body, life and living. So how do we enable, or better said, reconnect to the intelligence of our body? How do we inspire that self-regeneration, self-regulating healing aspect?

Enhancing Wellbeing Through Posture

In Spinal Love we explored how posture improvement nourishes our spine and all our organs. Today we’re going to lunge into the lungs.  Many studies have investigated the relationship between posture and breathing and the spill over effects. What’s evident is posture affects not only the spine and organs but all the muscles of the trunk. Many of are directly related to our breath, some indirectly. And if you know, like I love to say, “All is connected”. Through fascia, and many other tissues and systems, then this affects all the muscles, nerves, joints and tendons, all the way down to your toes.[1] Think the diaphragm, intercostals, neck and shoulder muscles,[2] but also the pelvic floor muscles, right down to the legs and feet.

When we sit all day, without body awareness, our shoulders and head begin to round forward. The chest muscles are compromised and tighten over time. Especially if it’s a day in day out habit. Our lungs become limited, our breathing shallow and rapid.[3] This causing our nervous system to become overstimulated, fight or flight switches on. Our nervous system is constantly told, “a bear is chasing us”. While at the same time, our muscles, organs and limbs get less activity, mobility and agility. Sending another contradictory message to the rest of the body that says, “we’re disengaged, rest and digest”.  But our body can only choose one of these pathways at a time. So, its in a perpetual state of discomfort, confusion and compromise. I believe this is the cause of our species present epidemic of chronic, inflammatory, immune and misdiagnosed health issues. But again, THIS is the body’s natural beauty, intelligence and ability to speak to us. Asking us to seek new pathways of living, moving, breathing and being. Our body consciousness, neuroception, knows autonomously and ceaselessly communicates with us.  Whether we listen or not is a different story.

Studies on Breathing & Posture

A Yoga study explored the difference between breath centred yoga and yoga without breath awareness. The group with practices to extend breath and engage in breath awareness, improved not only their breathing, but physical functions of whole-body strength and flexibility, especially of the lower extremities![4] Breathing affects our nervous, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, immune system and eventually all these affect our endocrine system.[5] Imagine your lungs encaged in twelve pairs of ribs. And between each rib, many strong bands of muscle connecting one to another above and below it. These muscles, the intercostals, run diagonally internally, as well as externally,[6] like a grass woven basket. Intercostals pull and release our lungs, contracting and opening. The contraction pulls the ribs together, exhale. And on the release a breath of fresh air is drawn in, inhale. This constant and beautiful rhythm goes on, from the moment of our birth to the day we die. Our exhale clears toxins, calms the nerves and centres the mind. It’s dependent on our ability of muscle contraction. And just as important their ability to relax, allows us to take in that new, clear, lively breath.

Improve Posture – Breathe in Life

In Yoga we say of breath is our life. And within the breath lies our life energy. When we breath fully we live fully. When we breathe shallow we only live to that depth. And this ongoing relationship of the in and out, reflects of our way of opening and closing to the vicissitudes of life. So how does can we breath more fully? How can we live more completely? Improve posture! Yep, that simple. There are a few essentials to breathing fully.

Posture Improvement

And allowing our posture that open and free space of the chest, by slightly bringing the shoulder blades toward each other, and softly down the back. Lifting the ribs up and away from the hips so the abdominal muscles lengthen, and the diaphragm becomes free, are foundations of better breathing. Making sure when we sit that the sitting bones are more elevated than the knees and ankles ensures our belly muscles can relax. Only then can the psoas and back muscles release and give the space to the lungs. Did you know that letting the pelvic floor muscles soften even affects the lungs? 

Body Awareness

Connection to our body, it’s ability, it’s limits, it’s needs, desires and vitality, live in this part of yoga practice. Tuning in to our sense of embodiment takes time and it helps if you have a teacher who practices what she preaches, so she can guide you into your body deeply. So, you can attune with it intimately.

Muscle Stretch, Strength & Integrity

Again, movement can’t be overstated for improving breath, breathing and cardiovascular health. I used to think Yoga was the be all, end all pill for all life activities. But I’ve since come to realise we need to run, dance and swim to fully appreciate, celebrate and integrate who we are and what we’re capable of. Cardio is vital to heart rate variability, a response of our vascular system to environmental stimuli. So, get up and get your heart pumping! Remember what it means to be embodied!!!

Relaxation

Restorative yoga, Yin and any other gentle form of yoga, that allows the body to stay in a position for at least 2 minutes, allows muscles to relax which are tight, and/or weak. This retrains muscles that have adopted constricting and compromised holding patterns. So, here’s to our beautiful, intelligent and able bodies! Here’s to living fully, with integrity and ambivalence simultaneously. We’re only human, and yet that’s already so much… Breathe fully and with integrity of your entire body. Live and love yourself, no matter what!

Love to you, your body, your breath and the life you choose to live,

Shira.


    References 

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329219/ 

[2] http://rc.rcjournal.com/content/59/4/543 

[3]https://www.healthline.com/health/breathe-deeper-improve-health-and-posture#posture-and-breathing

[4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329219/ 

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3482773/

[6] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/intercostal-muscle

HOW YOGA IMPROVES COMMUNICATION & RELATIONSHIPS

HOW YOGA IMPROVES COMMUNICATION & RELATIONSHIPS

So why do I keep going on about emotions, you might ask, and how can Yoga improve them? Emotions drive our impulses. They filter our perception, relation and reactions, in that order. If we don’t know which emotion prompts us, we react instead of respond. We risk communication and relation breakdowns. 

Communication is the basis for co-creation. And emotions the initiator of that expression.  

Ultimately Yoga is all about having deep, fulfilling and honest connections and relationships. Early on my Yoga road, reconnecting with my inner self, gave immense joy, courage and a sense of empowerment and contentment from the bliss we find within. Somewhere mid journey we uncover our deeper connection to Self, the divine. It inspires us to dive deeper. It dares us to climb higher peaks we never thought we could, and even fly a little, until we hit a very concrete part of our humanity.

As we mature on our Yoga journey we realise the knowledge, confidence and resilience we finally reclaim, are the essence of deep healthy relations, connection and living as complex social beings. The last few years my Yoga path is about realising how to be a better human being. Not a human doing. Nor a human not doing. But a human being who makes the effort, in order to manifest ease, not just for self but for others just the same. Sukha and Sthira. That’s the only Asana, seat, we need to create as the foundation of our expression, gift and work. It’s a fine balancing act. To be a being of compassion and yet proactive. That profound recognition of our responsibility and ability. To create the changes, we need to turn around in ourselves and the Earth. To be proactive and co-create, the first step we need is to learn to communicate.

Importance of Skilful Communication

The importance of power dynamics between teacher and student can’t be understated. Especially since the exposure of power abuse in many of the yoga communities. And communication is key to support healthy interpersonal relationships and create balanced and empowering power dynamics. 

Denial, disastrous communication, or lack of it, leads to frustration, fear, loneliness, anger, grief, emotional and mental imbalances, and even suicide. Just as healthy communication has the potential to free us. To empower us and to create long lasting, satisfying relationships. In two weeks, I begin another Yoga therapy training.

To get the most out of any education, good communication is essential. Even though I’ve made effort my whole adult life to improve my communication skills, I still find myself lacking in trying situations. An important part of Yoga Therapy training is learning skilful communication, observation and deep relation. All key to Yoga being therapeutic. 

Healthy interpersonal communication is vital to happiness, health and success. To transform outgrown patterns, it takes two to see, hear, speak, share and dare to work together toward change. Empowering the individual toward their own healing process. Only guiding them enough to take the steps of creating their own wellbeing. Yoga’s greatest strength lies in it’s potential to empower the individual. And how Yoga does this is through cultivation of self awareness, deeper levels of honesty, sensitivity and skill in action, toward the good, the bad and the ugly. So communication with self is key to healing, self and others, through deep listening and responding. 

Communication as a tool to empower

Communication is key for our relationship to self and others. It helps us recognise our and others needs, strengths, challenges and gifts. When we relate in these, we own our part in the play. This allows the other to own their part. We mutually empower. There’s no power battle when we listen, honour and find a win/win way for all involved. When we’re honest we deeply honour our values, feelings and thoughts. Doing so creates an empowered, autonomous and confident sense of self. 

We’re only as empowered as we are honest with who we are, what we stand for and what we feel in relation with to any given situation. And being emotionally intelligent, means we know what we feel, why and how to communicate that. Being honest and speaking our truth, we give others the chance to do the same. It naturally empowers them in the process. We honour others values, feeling and thoughts too. Because it’s a two-way street. It feels so great to feel honoured and empowered, we only wish the same for the other. Emotional intelligence opens up the pathway to this mutual feeling. Fulfilling relationships and skilful communication come from the baby step of honesty and ability to express it kindly.

Yamas and Skilful communication

The Yamas are the basis of all yoga. Communication rests on these pillars of the Yamas. Especially Ahimsa; kindness to self and others, Satya; honesty and Bramhacharya; keeping our energy within our sense of self, which is actually emotional intelligence. Our ability to communicate depends on our relationship with self; honesty and self-awareness of what we think, feel and belief, kindness and self-inquiry of the way we relate to self and others, keeping our Prana within our senses and how we respond or react to what we discover within and without. 

Without self knowledge and self awareness its difficult to communicate what we want, think and feel. And even harder to create a life that reflects these ideals.   Growing up with the themes of misunderstanding, loneliness, depression, blaming, shaming, are common. We see, live with, accept, and in our incredible ability to adapt, we find ways to even thrive and be happy amongst the confusion and changes of socia But for some these themes are too painful, especially if we lack the ability or urge to communicate. Sharing our emotive visions inspires us. 

Communication connects us, allows us torelate and feel heard, held and honoured. It grounds us when we’re understood. It frees us from the heavy burden of carrying feelings all alone. Sharing allows the intelligence behind the emotion; the impulse to create change to honour our sensibility to what’s good for us now, guides us to improve connection and bolsters healthy relationships. Underneath there is a calm love and wholeness that we all can access. 

Holding the space for emotions to flower, flourish, bloom and wilt, we can hold the space for others to communicate their feelings. Then what we envision can come to the foreground. Behind every emotion awaits a force so strong to create wholeness. Its our job to learn to hear the silent but powerful messengers. To decipher and shift gears. Then we can co-create together. Because alone we will never move mountains. Alone we can dream, together we can do it.And its so much more fun with others. 

Namaste and I’d love to hear how you share your truth and co-create,   

Much Love,

Shira.

ONE NERVE TO EASE OR DIS-EASE

ONE NERVE TO EASE OR DIS-EASE

The Vagus Nerve

A hype in Yoga therapy circles, adamant I wasn’t joining in, for years, it sat on the shelf. Then Ganesh Mohan mentioned Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory at the Yoga therapy training, thrice. Finally, I dove in… 

Why hadn’t I done so earlier?!

Mindset, fear, limiting beliefs, lack of self confidence, resistance, procrastination, lethargy. Take your pick. If you ask me, a little of each. 

The vagus nerve affects all of these, and so much more, for better or for worse, depending on which pathway our vagus activates easier.

Two paths, two very different outcomes

The Vagus nerve has two pathways one to excite, sympathetic, and the other to relax and rebalance, parasympathetic. Yoga-based practices intrinsically promote vagal tone and decrease the wear and tear of the body. Yoga practiced intentionally, with slow rhythmic breathing during the physical, emotional and mental challenges of practice, allows us to exercise non-reactiveness in stressful situations. It increases parasympathetic vagal tone.

So you might ask, “What does that mean for me?”

Well, the tone of our vagus nerve directly impacts our wellbeing and physiology. If we work more in the activated and excited state,that most of us are in daily, we strengthen the tone and circuitry of sympathetic- fight or flight response. and if we are great at relaxing, allow our bodies to rest and restore when it asks for it, we increase parasympathetic- rest and digest response circuitry.  

This impacts everything from our weight, sleep, immunity, inflammation of organs and tissues, stress response, general wellbeing, to our ability to relax, the shine of our hair, the health of our skin, our energy levels, which affect depression and anxiety are affected by vagal tone!

How it Works its Wonders through Wandering 

Its name comes from the Latin vagus,means wandering. And like a vagabond it’s dedicated to travelling from all the organs to communicate our organic state. Our perception of it’s value is vague because it moves so subtly. 

If we wander with the longest cranial nerve in the body on a journey from brainstem, striated muscles in the face, head, neck, back of the tongue, ears, down the throat to the lungs, heart, and deep down into the gut, we touch all feeling tissues. The vagus nerve connects skin, muscles and our entire visceral body. Viscera means deeply feeling. Its our innate organ sensing and communicates with our brain how we feel. Basically, its our emotional pathway.

Most nerves are either able to sense or enable us to move, the vagal does both. It controls sense and motor communication between feeling and acting. It’s importance as pathway of bodily intelligence, is finally beginning to surface in modern medicine. Physiologically interwoven throughout our entire system, Yoga benefits the vagal nerve. Vagal tone is strongly impacted by slow rhythmic breathing of Yoga, and movement enhances our sensitivity to our inner states.[i]

Pretty influential, when you feel it.

Visceral messages like gut feelings, butterflies, instinct, intuition, are all initiated by this amazingly wondrous nerve. Called Neuroception, this perception of the body’s neurons without awareness of the mind instinctively sense our environment and another’s neural signals. These feelings draw our awareness and attention within the body. These sensations tell us we need to make some changes. Either in the lifestyle or dietary habits, or our environment, the people we hang out with or the work we do. 

When we ignore the body’s intelligence that something’s wrong, again and again, we’ll develop dis-ease. This is just the body’s way to say, “Hello, you’re not listening! Hey, you up there, you need to make some changes!”. Continue to ignore the cues, due to insensitivity, lack of will, or ignorance, and it builds up into deep seated dis-ease. Ayurveda calls this process Samprapti. It becomes chronic. 

What You can do to Tone that Wandering Nerve  

1. Feel Safe and Welcome

One of the most important things for our vagus nerve is feel safe. Feeling safe is the precursor of healing and thriving. That bodily sensation of safety, when we relax, rest and digest. When the nervous system rests, the vagal nerve switches from sympathetic mode, meaning active, ready to run, escape or fight, to parasympathetic, meaning passive, ready to restore, absorb and enjoy. 


Our organs of digestion, reparation and growth, are only nourished when we’re relaxed. Feeling safe is basis for a healthy relationships, social engagement and play. Safety is the foundation for higher brain function and higher states of awareness, which gives way to our creative, intuitive and joyous nature.  

2. Slow Rhythmic Breathing

The wandering nerve will wander less aimlessly if we breathe slowly and with the intention to breathe rhythmically. Especially the out breath will enhance the parasympathetic nervous system. If you find it hard to relax, then breathing out slower then in will bring the ralation mode into play. Breathe out for 8 seconds and in for 4-6, as you feel comfortable. Do this for at least 10 rounds. But the more the merrier 🙂

3. Practice Yoga with Slow Rhythmic Movement

Yoga movement practiced slow and with rhythmic intention deepens the breath, strengthening core muscles and enhances our baroreceptor sensitivity. [i]  It also makes sure our awareness is switched on. This in and of itself assures calming the nervous system, stilling the mind and regulates emotions and energy levels because we’re more attuned. 


We can use the body to engage the relaxation part of the Vagus by doing simple movements such as cat cow, or gentle or modified sun salutations.

4. Use a Positive Affirmation that Creates a Sense of Welcome

Whatever fear comes up, ask what the thought is behind that fear, hear the words and then find the exact opposite words to strengthen your positive intention to feel safe, welcome and accepted. The Vagus works both top down and bottoms up. Meaning we can override it from our bodily sensations, or with thoughts.

So we want to create a smooth slow and rhythmic practice, both of the breath, the movement and mental patterns.

The intention and the intensity will also benefit your Wandering nerve, the wandering mind and our sometimes wandering health, while we wonder where in heavens it went this time…. 

Know you have the power in your hands, body and mind, when You educate yourself and apply that knowledge!! Begin to move with your Wandering Nerve. Start that journey of wondering with life, it’s complexity, it’s completeness and your capabilities.


Namaste, much love, safety and nourishment to Your Soul,

Shira.

 
 
[i]Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Lorenzo Cohen, Timothy McCall, Shirley Telles- The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care