Do you remember that beautiful feeling of wellbeing and walking on clouds just after a massage treatment? But within a few days it's gone and you are thrown back into the reality of stress, pain and tension.
There is a way how you can help to feel on top of the world for longer and eventually stay there. The way to wellbeing starts with proper breathing. Yes, we are back talking about breath. You cannot live without it so why not to do it properly and feel amazing? One of the main breathing muscles - the diaphragm is linked with the parasympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system and thus promotes relaxation response through the body. We cannot possibly keep our muscles relaxed and in good posture if our body is under the spell of the stress response. We automatically move into defensive posture and our muscles tense up ready to run or fight. Even unconscious thoughts in our mind can produce stress response within the body. We need to actively and regularly activate the relaxing response to keep our muscles and the rest of the body and mind well. How do we do it?
Practise deep diaphragmatic breathing at the least once a day. Remember to always have your spine straight when practising your breathing. At the beginning you might find it easier to lie down with your knees bend one hand on your abdomen and the other one on your chest. Breathe into your abdomen feeling your lower hand to rise up with your abdomen on inhalation and drop back down on exhalation. Your upper hand stays nice and still. Practise for a few minutes, the very least 10 breaths and hopefully you hear your stomach making noises which is an indicator of your relaxing response 'kicking in'.
Stability and balance are the goals of yoga practise. As yoga practitioners we are not overly concerned with the look of our abdomens as we are with their proper function. Strong abdominal muscles are essential for our good posture, for protection of our spine, they assist in the breathing process as well as in the process of digestion and elimination.
Let’s have a look at few abdominal muscles that are the deep stabilizing muscles of the lower spine and which are the focus of our yoga practise.
Transverse abdominis is the deepest abdominal muscle. It is the ‘corset’ muscle and runs from the bottom of the sternum all the way to the pubic bone. It is the quardian of the spinal joints, ligaments, discs and nerves.
Multifidus are very short muscles of your spine. They don’t allow too much movement as their main function is stability.
Pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm complete the deep stabilisers of the lumbar spine. Diaphragm is very important muscle as it is the main breathing muscle and is responsible for 2/3 of our inhalations. Apart from breathing it is also very important postural muscle helping us stand verticaly and functionally is connected to other abdominal muscles which means that if they are weak our diaphragm and thus breathing will be also affected.
As always in yoga even in the case of our abdominal muscles we are striving for balance. Weak muscles won’t assist our proper posture and spine protection but overly tense abdominal muscles might negatively affect our flexibility. But yoga has you covered as strengthening poses are followed by stretching ones.
The most popular yoga poses for abdominal strength are the Boat and the Plank. Both offer huge number of variations to accommodate your ability.
Breath focus is not forgotten in these stronger positions either which further assist in stimulating our core region.
There are a lot of styles of physical yoga practise you can choose from. It is common that more physical and dynamic styles are recommended for people who are active, sporty, extroverts, doers. And more gentle styles are recommended for introverted and calmer people. But where is the balance in this logic? Wellbeing comes from balancing our energies, tendencies and characters. Too much of a good thing, one thing in this case, is never the answer.
Imagine looking at the well known yin and yang circle. It is black and white divided by wavy line in the middle with a dot of the opposite colour in each half. These dots symbolise dependence on each other. There is no yin without yang, day without night, joy without grief.
Now lets think about typical characteristics of today's society and all of us individually. Aren't we just a little stressed, tensed and living our lives very quickly and busily? All this activity and stress activate sympathetic nervous system which then activates and keep us in the fight or flight response. But what about the other part of our autonomic nervous system the parasympathetic nervous system often termed as the rest and digest response? How do we activate that?
Many of us share similar daily routine. Alarm gets us out our beds early, we race to the bathroom, kitchen, organise children, drop them off to school, race to work, then race to make it for school pick up and drop kids off to sport activities, make dinner and if your partner manages to get back early enough you might be lucky to run to yoga class. And what class do you choose? Of course you don't want to be lazy, you want to achieve something so you pick some dynamic style of yoga after which you run home trying to catch up on few jobs and then you fall into bed staring into the ceiling with your mind racing still and you are unable to fall a sleep.
But what if you choose yin yoga instead to balance your busy lifestyle? You might find calm and peace on your yoga mat which will last all the way home, helps you to sleep better and even makes the following morning a bit calmer.
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