Monday, 22 February 2010

Vinyasa Krama Lotus Sequence,Some favourite asanas

Starting my week on Sunday. Gives me more time to work through the new sequence with Ramaswami's book. This week it's the Lotus Sequence. It was my favourite last time around.
A most meditative sequence but none the worse for that. I'll look at it in more detail later but just wanted to throw out a couple of things from yesterday.

Vinyasa Krama, bit boring after Ashtanga? Can see why you might think that but not at all, it's just different. There are still some crowd pleases in there, they're just scattered about rather than strung together in one series.

Padma Mayurasana for instance. Some improvement here from September.
















Word of warning with this. If your familiar with Mayurasana and decide to give it a try then be sure to remember that you have less of a counterweight with your legs folded. First time I tried it I ended up grinding my face into the mat.

It's coming on. Same with the standard Mayurasana you tend to lose control as you try to stretch it and get your head up. Would love to see a picture of Swan neck girl doing this one. Exit is rough on the first one but better on the second.

Oh and if you think Karandavasana is tricky (which is in this sequence by the way) then try sitting in lotus and then taking it up into headstand! Tried three times yesterday and not even close. The idea is to, while in lotus, put your head on the mat with your hands around the head as in your usual Sirsasana, then your supposed to bring the knees in as close to your body as you can, engage the bandhas and take it up........ in theory.

more on this later.

However, Urdhwa Kukkutasana is in there too just before all the Padma Sirsasanas, so for now I'm lifting up into that and then going down into headstand that way (re 3rd ) then bringing the hands back to normal Sirsasana position. After the headstands I take the hands back to Pincha position for Karandavasana. Seems to work well.

UPDATE

Just read the last paragraph and realized I can't help myself, still trying to make one asana flow into the next. What I should be doing is lowering back down after Padma Sirsasana, take a couple of breaths in lotusto collect myself, then see about Padma Pinchamayurasana. I think the Urdhwa kukkutasana entry is ox until I manage to work out this lift, either that or I can shuffle the knees up on to the backs of my forearms and raise the duck, kinda karandavasana in reverse.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Vinyasa Krama Seated Sequence.

For the next couple of months I'm working at improving familiarity with the different VK sequences by spending a week or two on each sequence. Last time I approached Vinyasa Krama, I was alternating the sequences through the the week but by the time the following week came around I was still having to stop and check the book. Hopefully, this way, I'll manage to get the sequences fixed in my head and in a month or so I can go back to alternating the sequences without the need to keep checking.

This week has been the Seated Sequence. As I'm still getting used to the transition from Ashtanga I've kept most of the Standing and Finishing sequences the same as I'm familiar with, basically the Sury's, a couple of Triangle sequence sub-routines and 'On one leg' subroutines for Standing and Sarvangasana and Lotus Subroutines for Finishing Later I'll get around to alternating the subroutines. Besides the Ashtanga Standing sequence is ideal for the Seated sequence, if aint not broke, don't fix it.

Seated appears to be a straight forward Sequence, a Jump Through into Paschimatanasana, no change there from Ashtanga's Primary. As with Primary you repeat the posture, this is something that comes up a lot in Vinyasa Krama. However, where in primary you do Paschi four times, A, B, C and D in VK's Seated there's also E, F, G, H and I ('though they aren't called that). These include crossing the arms, crossing the arms and twisting forward and then back, Paschi without support, IE. your hands just resting beside your feet and then a kind of Paschi version of Parasarita C with your arms out stretched behind you and then finally in reverse prayer position.

That's a lot of Paschimatanasana, and yet somehow it works. The breath is the real focus here, I aim at a five second inhalation, ten seconds exhalation and five seconds holding the exhale bahya kumbhaka while engaging mula and uddiyana bandhas (I don't engage the bandhas in the twists). I do ten rounds/breaths in each Paschi. It's hard to keep the breath steady and smooth when your bent double like that getting deeper and deeper into the pose each time but it also feels quite powerful, profound even as they build upon eachother.

Next is Kurmasana. In VK you tend to have a Jump Back and Through at the beginning of the sequence as well as at the end, VK calls it a lead in . I'm used to more so tend to fit one in between each of the sub-routines, It seems to be a nice balance. Akunchita Kurmasana I approach as usual via Dwi pada Sirsasana (legs behind head and lower down into it) I also exit via Titibhasana and Bakasana, again it's just what I'm used to and doesn't require much effort for me, so doesn't disturb my breath.

Purvatanasana is up next but there's also the side version on one arm, Vasishtasana. Then your on into Chatushpadapeetam, table pose with leg raises. Then it's Navasana, I do five with a lift in between, there's no lifting up here in VK but again I'm used to it and I want to keep some of the strength and fitness I've developed, I still throw in a couple of handstands in the Sury's too. Urdhwa Paschimotanasana finishes off this little sub routine and there's a rest in VK here where you lay back in corpse for a couple of minutes to settle the breath and the heartbeat. In VK you would take one of these whenever you felt the need. Steady breath is everything in Vinyasa Krama and remember your aiming at these long slow exhales and retentions with bandhas which make the poses deeper somehow.

After your little rest your back with more forward bends Upavishta Konasana, seated angle pose. As with Paschi there are eight versions of this and they take a similar form, supported and unsupported, hand variations and twists. Each time your getting deeper and your doing the same thing with the breath, short inhales, long steady exhales with retention and bandhas.

Side splits is next, Samkonasana, I'm still miles off being able to do that, I'm working on hanumanasana but I tend to give this one a pass.

The sequence finsishes off with Badha Konasana, Mula bhandasana, Padmasana, Siddhasana and Gomukhasana in each of these your basically doing Pranayama, long slow steady inhalation and exhalation, retention after both inhale and exhale and strongly engaging Mula, Udiyana and Jalahandra bandhas. I do about ten breaths in each 1-2 breaths a minute.

And then your on into finishing and the long Sarvangasana and Sirsasana via UD and Drop back's

Seated is a pretty straight forward sequence and easy enough to remember so I'll most likely move onto the Lotus Sequence Next week, this was my favourite sequence last time around so I'm looking forward to it.

On a side note, I've started using the Paranayama App at work. Found a quite room and am doing twenty minutes on my lunch break. Had a really tricky Sax yesterday but managed to stay patient with it all day, perhaps the Pranayama helped.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

How to Approach S. Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Krama?

This is the problem I've had from the start with Vinyasa Krama, how to actually practice it. Coming from Ashtanga made it even more difficult as I was used to the same routine everyday. The layout of The complete book of Vinyasa Krama doesn't really help self practice either, Text/Picture/Text/Picture/Text/Picture. It's difficult looking over and checking where you are and what comes next. But then how else would you lay it out.

I actually really like the book's approach, love reading through the sequences and how the breath is adapted to the posture, little stories of background information about the name or history of a pose. Love all that, just hard to practice with. Perhaps, at the end of each sequence, all the asanas could be laid out on a double page spread, that would help.

Plus there's the problem of how to use the sequences and sub routines. Do you just practice one sequence a day or do you mix them up. Ashtanga is a mixture of all these little sub routines and that seems to work well. And yet I like how the asanas are placed within the context of a sequence and build upon each other. That's something that's stressed within the book.

One of Ramaswami's other book's Yoga beneath the surface helps clear thing up a little. It's format is questions and answers between Ramaswami and one of his students David Hurwitz. As well as dealing with the practice they discuss Patanjali's Sutras, Meditation, Pranayama ETC. In that book it's suggested that a few key asanas should be practiced everyday. The Sun Salutaion of course but also the forward bend Uttanasana and Paschimatanasana, Maha Mudra (kind of like Janu A without bending forward, Sirsasana and Sarvangasana. One is advised to spend a considerable time in each of these postures. And of course after the asnana practice (60-90 minutes) comes the PCM, Pranayama, Chanting and Meditation (30 minutes)

That gives you a framework and is not a million miles away from Ashtanga. A standing sequence Paschi A, B and C the Janu's and finishing with all the Shoulder stand variations and the 25 breath headstand.

Broadly speaking, my approach is to stick one of the sequences in between Paschimatanasana and Maha Mudra. I also tend to add in some of the shorter sub-routines from the Standing sequences after the Sury's. Again this is similar to Ashtanga, The Trikonasanas, Parsvakonasana's and Prasarita's are sub-routines found in the the Triangle sequence and then you have the 'On one leg' Sub-routines.

There are a lot of variations of these in Vinyasa Krama, I plan to link some of the Standing Sub-routines to the 'central Sequence' so whenever I practice the seated sequence I'll have set standing routines to go with it. With the Supine Sequence I'll have another set, that way I get to cover all the different Standing Vinyasa's and work on address areas of my body. This seems a sensible approach too, I can link standing sub-routines that prepare me well for Lotus say or a different set for the Backbends of the Bow sequence.

My problem before was that I went straight into trying to do a different sequence every day. I didn't learn Ashtanga that way, rather I built up a familiarity with the sequence such that I didn't have to think about it anymore and could just get on with the practice. This time I propose to spend a week or two on practicing the Seated sequence every day and then spend a couple of weeks on the Inverted sequence and so on. Like I said, I already know the asanas it's just the sequence and it's subtleties I need to nail down.

The Asymmetric and Supine sequences are quite long however. I could split them up but think I'll go with practicing them on my day's off. So this week and perhaps next I'll practice the Seated sequence all week except for Tuesday and Sunday when I'll practice Asymmetric. The following week will be the Meditative Sequence all week say, except for my day's off when I'll practice Supine. That kind of thing. I'll just tweak the key everyday poses to work as counter poses although there are these within the sequences. It makes sense though to practice a long Paschi' after the Bow sequence rather than before.

This week then is the Seated Posterior Stretch Sequence

28.Suptasana/paschimatanasana 29. Paschimatanasana 30.
Purvatanasana 31. Chatushpadapeetam 32. Upavishtakonasana 33.
Pratikriya 34. Samakonasana. 35. Baddhakonasana 36 Siddhasana
37.Gomukkhasana 38.Yoganrisimhasana.

except for today (day off) and Sunday when it'll be the Asymmetric Seated Vinyasa Sequence

15 Lead sequence 16. Dandasana 17. Marichyasana 18.Mahamudra
19. Ardhapadmasana 20. Akarnadhanurasana/Cakorasana 21.
Ekapadasirsasana 22. Triyangmukha 23. Marichyasana(advanced) 24.
Bharadwajasana 26. Mahabandha 26. Matyendrasana 27.Return sequence

* A list of all the sequences in the book can be found here

These are two of my favourite sequences so should be a nice week.



Sunday, 14 February 2010

S. Ramaswami's Newsletter on Meditation

Somebody was saying recently that meditation was in the air. I came across this Newsletter again today and thought it might be nice to share.

Meditating on Meditation (The Newsletter in full is found here )

'...how should one meditate? Many start meditation and give it up
after a few days or weeks as they fail to see any appreciable benefit
or perceivable progress. The drop out rate is quite high among
meditators. The mind continues to be agitated and does not get into
the meditating routine. Or quite often one tends to take petit naps
while meditating. Why does this happen? It is due to lack of adequate
preparation. Basically one has to prepare oneself properly for
meditation. The Yogis mention two sadhanas or two yogic procedures as
preparations. They are asanas and pranayama. Asanas, as we have seen
earlier, reduce rajas which manifests as restlessness of the mind, an
inability to remain focused for an appreciable amount of time. But
another guna, tamas also is not helpful during meditation, manifesting
as laziness, lethargy and sloth and this also should be brought under
control if one wants to meditate. Patanjali, Tirumular and several old
Yogis advocate the practice of Pranayama to reduce the effects of
Tamas. Patanjali says Pranayama helps to reduce avarana or Tamas. He
along with conventional ashtanga yogis also mentions that Pranayama
makes the mind capable of Dharana or the first stage of meditation.
Pranayama is an important prerequisite of meditation.
There is evidence that pranayama has a salutary effect on the whole
system. In an earlier article I had explained the beneficial effects
of deep pranayama on the heart and the circulatory system. Further,
when it is done correctly, it helps to draw in anywhere between 3 to 4
liters of atmospheric air compared to just about ½ liter of air
during normal breathing. This helps to stretch the air sacs of the
lungs affording an excellent exchange of oxygen and gaseous waste
products. These waste products are proactively thrown out of the
system by deep pranayama, which yogis refer to as reduction of tamas.
Thus soon after pranayama, the yogi feels refreshed and calm and
becomes fit for the first stage of meditation which is called Dharana.
What should one meditate on? Several works talk about meditating on
cakras, mantras, auspicious icons, various tatwas and on the spirit/
soul etc. But, the method of meditating, only a few works detail.
Perhaps the most precise is that of Patanjali in Yoga Sutras.
Patanjali details not only a step by step methodology of meditation
but also the various objects of prakriti and ultimately the spirit
within to meditate on. Hence his work may be considered as the most
detailed, complete and rigorous on meditation
For a start Patanjali would like the abhyasi to get the technique
right. So he does not initially specify the object but merely says
that the Yogi after the preliminary practices of asana, pranayama and
pratyahara, should sit down in a comfortable yogasana and start the
meditation. Tying the mind to a spot is dharana. Which spot? Vyasa in
his commentary suggests going by tradition, a few spots, firstly
inside the body, like the chakras as the Kundalini Yogi would do,, or
the heart lotus as the bhakti yogi would do, or the mid-brows as a
sidhha yogi would do or even an icon outside as a kriya yogi would do.
The icon should be an auspicious object like the image of one’s
favorite deity. Many find it easier to choose a mantra and focus
attention on that. Thousands everyday meditate on the Gayatri mantra
visualizing the sun in the middle of the eyebrows or the heart as part
of their daily Sandhyavandana** routine. It is also an ancient
practice followed even today to meditate on the breath with or without
using the Pranayama Mantra.
(** Namarupa published my article “Sandhyavandanam-Ritualistic
Gayatri Meditation” with all the routines, mantras, meanings, about 40
pictures, and also an audio with the chanting of the mantras in the
Sep/Oct 2008 issue).

What of the technique?
The Yogabhyasi starts the antaranga sadhana or the internal practice
by bringing the mind to the same object again and again even as the
mind tends to move away from the chosen object of meditation. The
active, repeated attempts to bring the mind back to the simple, single
object again and again is the first stage of meditation (samyama)
called dharana. Even though one has done everything possible to make
the body/mind system more satwic, because of the accumulated samskaras
or habits, the mind continues to drift away from the object chosen for
meditation. The mind starts with the focus on the object but within a
short time it swiftly drifts to another related thought then a third
one and within a short time this train of thoughts leads to a stage
which has no connection whatsoever with the object one started with.
Then suddenly the meditator remembers that one is drifting and soon
brings the mind back to the object and resumes remaining with the
“object”. This process repeats over and over again. This repeated
attempts to coax and bring the mind to the same object is dharana. At
the end of the session lasting for about 15 minutes, the meditator may
(may means must) take a short time to review the quality of
meditation. How often was the mind drifting away from the object and
how long on an average the mind wandered? And further what were the
kinds of interfering thoughts? The meditator takes note of these. If
they are recurrent and strong then one may take efforts to sort out
the problem that interferes with the meditation repeatedly or at least
decide to accept and endure the situation but may decide to take
efforts to keep those thoughts away at least during the time one
meditates.
If during the dharana period, the mind gets distracted too often and
this does not change over days of practice, perhaps it may indicate
that the rajas is still dominant and one may want to reduce the
systemic rajas by doing more asanas in the practice. On the other hand
if the rajas is due to influences from outside, one may take special
efforts to adhere to the yamaniyamas more scrupulously. Perhaps every
night before going to sleep one may review the day’s activities and
see if one had willfully violated the tenets of yamaniyamas like “did
I hurt someone by deed, word or derive satisfaction at the expense of
others’ pain”. Or did I say untruths and so on. On the other hand if
one tends to go to sleep during the meditation minutes, one may
consider increasing the pranayama practice and also consider reducing
tamasic interactions, foods etc.
Then one may continue the practice daily and also review the progress
on a daily basis and also make the necessary adjustments in practice
and interactions with the outside world. Theoretically and practically
when this practice is continued diligently and regularly, slowly the
practitioner of dharana will find that the frequency and duration of
these extraneous interferences start reducing and one day, the abhyasi
may find that for the entire duration one stayed with the object. When
this takes place, when the mind is completely with the object moment
after moment in a continuous flow of attention, then one may say that
the abhyasi has graduated into the next stage of meditation known as
dhyana. Many meditators are happy to have reached this stage. Then one
has to continue with the practice so that the dhyana habits or
samskaras get strengthened. The following day may not be as
interruption free, but Patanjali says conscious practice will make it
more successful. “dhyana heyat tad vrittayah”. If one continues with
this practice for sufficiently long time meditating on the same object
diligently, one would hopefully reach the next stage of meditation
called Samadhi. In this state only the object remains occupying the
mind and the abhyasi even forgets herself/himself. Naturally if one
continues the meditation practice one would master the technique of
meditation. Almost every time the yagabhasi gets into meditation
practice, one would get into Samadhi. Once one gets this capability
one is a yogi—a technically competent yogi-- and one may be able to
use the skill on any other yoga worthy object and make further
progress in Yoga. (tatra bhumishu viniyogah)
The consummate yogi could make a further refinement. An object has a
name and one has a memory of the object, apart from the object itself
(sabda, artha gnyana). If a Yogi is able to further refine the
meditation by focusing attention on one aspect like the name of the
object such a meditation is considered superior. For instance when the
sound ‘gow” is heard (gow is cow ), if the meditiator intently
maintains the word ‘gow’ alone in his mind without bringing the
impression(form) of a cow in his mind then that is considered a
refined meditation. Or when he sees the cow, he does not bring the
name ‘gow’ in the meditation process, it is a refined meditation.
The next aspect-after mastering meditation— one may consider is, what
should be the object one should meditate upon. For Bhakti Yogis it is
the Lord one should meditate upon. According to my teacher, a great
Bhakti Yogi, there is only one dhyana or meditation and that is
bhagavat dhyana or meditating upon the Lord. There is a difference
between a religious person and a devotee. A devotee loves the Lord and
meditates on the Lord, all through life. The Vedas refer to the
Pararmatman or the Supreme Lord and bhakti yogis meditate on the Lord.
The Vedas also refer to several gods and some may meditate on these as
well. By meditating on the Lord one may transcend the cycle of
transmigration. At the end of the bhakti yogi’s life one reaches the
same world of the Lord (saloka), the heaven. Some attain the same form
as the Lord. Some stay in the proximity of the Lord and some merge
with the Lord. The Puranas which are the later creation of poet seers
personify the Lord and the vedic gods. Thus we have several puranas as
Agni purana, Vayu purana and then those of the Lord Himself like the
Bhagavata Purana , Siva Purana , Vishnu Purana. Running to thousands
of slokas and pages the puranic age helped to worship the Lord more
easily as these stories helped to visualize the Lord as a person,
which was rather difficult to do from the Vedas. Later on Agamas made
the Lord more accessible by allowing idols to be made of the Lord and
divine beings and consecrating them in temples. Thus these various
methods helped the general populace remain rooted to religion and
religious worship. So meditating upon the charming idol/icon of the
Lord made it possible for many to worship and meditate . Of course
many traditional Brahmins belonging to the vedic practices stuck to
the vedic fire rituals, frowned upon and refrained from any ‘form
worship’, but millions of others found form worship a great boon.
Meditating on the form of the chosen deity either in a temple or at
one’s own home has made it possible to sidestep the intermediate
priestly class to a great extent. One can become responsible for one’s
own religious practice, including meditation. The ultimate reality is
meditated on in different forms, in any form as Siva Vishnu etc or as
Father, Mother, Preceptor or even a Friend. Some idol meditators
define meditating on the whole form as dharana, then meditating on
each aspect of the form as the toe or head or the arms or the
bewitching eyes as dhyana and thus giving a different interpretation
to meditation. Some, after meditating on the icon, close the eyes and
meditate on the form in their mind’s eye (manasika).
Darshanas like Samkhya and Yoga which do not subscribe to the theory
of a Creator commended ‘the understanding of one’s own Self’ as a
means of liberation. The Self which is non-changing is pure
consciousness and by deep unwavering meditation after getting the
technique right, one can realize the nature of oneself and be
liberated. Following this approach, the Samkhyas commend meditating on
each and every of the 24 aspects of prakriti in the body-mind complex
of oneself and transcend them to directly know the true nature of
oneself, and that will be Freedom or Kaivalya. Similarly the Yogis
would say that the true nature of the self is known when the mind
transcends(nirodha) the five types of its activities called vrittis to
reach kaivalya, by a process of subtler and subtler meditation.
The Upanishads on the other hand while agreeing with the other
Nivritti sastras like Yoga and Samkhya in so far as the nature of the
self is concerned, indicate that the individual and the Supreme Being
are one and the same and meditating on this identity leads to
liberation. They would like the spiritual aspirant to first follow a
disciplined life to get an unwavering satwic state of the mind. Then
one would study the upanishadic texts (sravana), by analysis (manana)
understand them and realize the nature of the self through several
step by step meditation approaches (nidhidhyasana). The Vedas, for the
sake of the spiritual aspirant, have several Upanishad vidyas to study
and understand It from several viewpoints. For instance, the panchkosa
vidya indicates that the real self is beyond (or within) the five
koshas (sheaths). It could also be considered as the pure
consciousness which is beyond the three states of awareness (avasta)
of waking, dream and deep sleep, as the Pranava(Om) vidya would
indicate. The understanding and conviction that Self and the Supreme
Self are one and the same is what one needs to get, before doing
Upanishadic meditation following the advaitic interpretation.
Summarizing one may say that traditional meditation warrants proper
preparation so that the mind becomes irrevocably satwic and thus fit
for and capable of meditation. Secondly it requires practice on a
simple object until the meditation technique is mastered and such
meditatin samskaras developed. Then the Yogi should set the goal of
meditation based on the conviction of a solid philosophy—bhakti,
samkhya, yoga, vedanta, kundalini (or if comfortable, nirvana) or
whatever'.

The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga has a short sequence called 'The meditative pose sequence' based on Vajrasana or bolt pose. Vajrasana can be used for meditation as an alternative to Lotus. The sequence is basically Vajrasana with different hand and arm variations and including some forward and backward bending. It's a nice sequence and ideal perhaps for an Ashtanga rest day and as preparation for Pranayama and Meditation.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

YOGA NERVES from Srivatsa Ramaswami's February 2010 Newsletter

Even orthodox Astangi's get 25 breaths in Sarvangasana and Sirasasana which can be taken as long, deep and as slow as they like. For the home Ashtangi The complete book of Vinyasa Krama has some nice variations worth considering while your up there.

YOGA NERVES
from Srivatsa Ramaswami's February 2010 Newsletter.

The brain and its nerve pathways form an important system of the human
being and again Yoga has some unique procedures to help the efficacy
of the nervous system. The brain, the spinal cord containing the nerve
fibers, the ganglions, the plexuses and the peripheral nerves form
this system. We have already seen the benefit the yogic technique of
meditation can bring to the brain. It helps to create new neural
connections and reduce disturbances. This Raja Yoga technique works
within the brain and transforms (parinama) it to a better functioning
organ. The Hata Yogis through the Hata Yoga practices such as
Pranayama, viparitakaranis and some mudras help to maintain good
health of the brain. The two postures that really help the brain are,
as you can guess, the inversions, Sirasasana and Sarvangasana.
Many people, when they start to practice Headstand, find that their
faces flush and they feel a rush of blood to the face and the skull.
After some regular practice for a short period of time, the body
adjusts to the new posture and auto regulates the flow of blood. Even
so when one practices this posture for a significant time, the blood
circulation in the brain improves considerably, since the blood
vessels in the brain do not contract or dilate the way other blood
vessels do. This is very refreshing to the brain and normally people
get a cleansed feeling. Equally important is that the cerebro-spinal
fluid, which is a clear and colorless liquid surrounding the brain and
the spinal cord, drains and pools upon the top portion of the brain.
It enters the ventricles and small recesses in the brain and helps in
the nourishment of the brain cells. The third ventricle conveys a
small recess to the posterior portion of the pituitary gland. The
pressure of the CSF, while staying in Headstand, helps the gland to
secrete more of the hormones into the CSF which again is said to
stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. So people who have a weak
sympathetic system may benefit from remaining in Headstand for a
considerable amount of time. The weak sympathetic is considered to be
one of the causes of some ailments like bronchial asthma. Hence this
exercise could be useful for those who suffer from such conditions as
bronchial asthma, its cousin eczema and distant relative, epilepsy y
stimulating the sympathetic.

Sarvangasana is similar to but yet different from Headstand. In this,
instead of the crown, the occipital portion of the head is on the
floor, and the CSF pools into the midbrain and the back of the brain
including the medulla. These areas are really stimulated by a good
stint in Sarvangasana. It is said the Vagas nerve nuclei are
stimulated by this exercise. Thus it results in the activation of the
para sympathetic. It results in reduction in anxiety and insomnia. My
Guru used to say that it helps normalize sexual functions. Thus a
judicious mix of Headstand and Shoulder stand would help to bring
about a healthy balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic
nervous systems.

Yoga is particularly directed towards maintaining the integrity of the
spine. The spinal cord is about 45 cm long for men and 43cm for women.
The enclosing bony vertebral column protects the relatively shorter
spinal cord. In fact, the spinal cord extends down to only the last of
the thoracic vertebrae, or the thoracic spine, and then the tail flows
down the lumbar region. The spinal cord is inside the neural canal --
almost the diameter of the thumb-- of the backbone. The nerves from
the spine emanate on either side through openings called neural
foramina and then proceed to the autonomic nervous system and then
various organs. The slightest displacement of the vertebrae will
result in chronic or acute pain. In Yoga, efforts are made to maintain
the spinal column in proper position and mobility. There are fibers of
both the central and autonomic nervous system. When there is some
pressure on the nerves due to even the slightest displacement of the
vertebrae, there is pain which inhibits the various impulses that pass
through the brain, spinal cord, the various organs and muscles. This
can be compared to ‘noise’ in the telephone transmission system. In
such cases the signals do not properly reach the organs or the brain
and spinal cord do not receive the signals properly resulting in the
inefficiency of those organs. So Yogis take special care to see that
the spinal column is properly exercised, mobile and supple. The
exercises are designed to prevent any vertebral pressure on the nerves
by maintaining a healthy inter-vertebral space. And then these spinal
exercises help to circulate blood and CSF to nourish the spinal
nerves. They also suggest strengthening the back muscles so that the
spinal column is well supported. Paschimatanasana, as the name
implies, will meet the requirement admirably.

The movements for the spine include side bending, forward bending,
curving the back, back bending and of course twisting. These may be
done in different postures as is usually done in Vinyasakrama. One of
the simple sequences that helps achieve this is hasta vinyasas and
thoracic exercises in Tadasana, which include all these movements.
(See my book “Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga, Chapter on Tadasana).
This stretching of the spine will be enhanced if one practices the
scores of vinyasas in inversion poses like Sarvangasana and sirsasana.
The spinal cord is inside the thoracic region of the vertebral column.
So when we move the arms and do the various movements the spine at the
thoracic region does not stretch as the ribcage moves up and down as
one unit. The intervertebral discs in the region of the thoracic spine
are much thinner than in the cervical and the lumbar regions. As a
result there is generally less movement between the vertebrae of the
thoracic spine. The yogis have found a unique way of stretching the
thoracic spine. This is achieved by doing all the movements with deep
breathing, especially inhalation. When we do deep inhalation, the
chest expands side to side, front to back and also up and down which
will help stretch the vertical thoracic spine and maintain a good
intervertebral space for mobility and freedom for the nerves. Hence
the vinyasakrama method of doing asanas with good breathing has this
additional advantage. Again a good stint of Pranayama practice
especially Nadisodhana (nerve cleansing) with an easy, graceful and
secure Jalandharabandha should be very useful for the spinal cord.
Pranayamic deep inhalation and the long breath holding (1:4:2) after
inhalation (antah kumbhaka) directly benefit the nerves inside the
spine.. So when you do deep inhalation, hold the breath and stretch
the spine, the breathing itself acts as an internal traction of the
thoracic spine.

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