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Jul 14, 2012 | Leaflets

Calming Effect Of The Shoulderstand And Bunion Advice

One of my students has enthusiastically offered to help with the birthing and layout of a regular yoga leaflet, which will highlight some of the many underlying aspects of yoga practice. It can also include net-working. She is travelling at present so I will simply print out my July contribution. Time constraints make it difficult to include much of the back-ground of yoga; its ancient traditions as well as modern developments into the actual class situation. This may be a way to highlight one or two important aspects at a time.

William Broad’s book: The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, was 5 years in the making and draws on more than a century of painstaking research to present the first impartial evaluation of a practice that is thousands of years old. William Broad is a lifelong practitioner himself and a senior writer of the New York Times who has won every major award in print and television as a science journalist. With Times colleagues, he has twice won the Pulitzer Prize as well as an Emmy and a duPont.¬†



In his introduction he characterises yoga’s popularity not only because of its talent for undoing stress, but observes that its traditions offer a counterpoint to modern life. “It is unplugged and natural, old and centered- a kind of anti civilisation pill that can neutralise the dissipating influence of the Internet and the flood of information, we all face. Its ancient serenity offers a new kind of solace.”

During his research he met an Iyengar yoga teacher and scientist with whom he studied. Robin Mel wrote a Physiological Handbook for Teachers of Yogasana in which he features the science of inversion poses in which the feet or torso go above the head. Here he explains how poses can result in autonomic shifts.

The Shoulder Stand, which I will consider here, according to Robin, presses the parasympathetic brake, soothes the spirit and makes it “one of the most relaxing poses in Yoga.”(I know not everybody agrees)!

Robin says the pose calms because it seizes control of one of the most important functions of the autonomic system- the regulation of blood-pressure. It is well known that good health depends on the pressure staying in a narrow range. If it drops too low, the brain gets insufficient blood and we get dizzy, weak and faint. In extreme cases, organs can fail, producing such breakdowns as cardiac arrest.

High blood-pressure has its own hazards, though long term rather than immediate. It stresses the heart and arterial walls, producing hyper-tension. This is a risk factor for strokes, heart attack and kidney failure. Because of such dangers, the human body over the ages has evolved a striking array of senses and defense mechanisms that constantly take pressure readings of the blood vessels and make suitable adjustments.

According to Robin the Shoulder Stand engages the caratids- the major arteries that run through the front of the neck carrying blood to the brain- as a sensor. The caratid sensors make sure the brain gets the right amount of blood and given the brain’s importance get serious attention. Sensors embedded in the arterial walls monitor bulging or contracting that indicate changes in blood pressure.

In the full Shoulder Stand, the chin presses deeply into the neck and upper chest, clamping down on the caratids and making the local pressure very high. That raises alarm bells and the parasympathetic brake flies into action. It assumes that the delicate tissues of the brain are reeling from too much blood and orders the heart and circulatory system to compensate with pressure cuts. The main response signals go through the vagus- the large nerve that starts in the brain stem and wanders among the lungs, heart, stomach and other abdominal organs.
The parasympathetic nervous system commands urgently:” Don’t pump so often! Don’t pump so hard. Open the diameters and vasodilate”- the term for vessel relaxation that allows blood to flow at a more leisurely pace.

Inversions work beautifully to fool the heart into slowing. The upended body dramatically increases the blood flow to the right atrium. Normally, gravity helps a little bit between the head and the heart. Turning the body upside down lets gravity work over a much larger area, strengthening venous flow from the feet, legs and torso. It is all down hill so the heart overfills.

The rising pressure in the right atrium then signals the heart to beat slower.

That signal according to Robin causes the heart to reduce the strength of its contractions. When pressure is high the heart slows down.

I often wander why many of you can stay comfortably for an extended time in the shoulder stand. This may be why! Some people may feel uncomfortable about a scientific approach to understanding poses and of course of and in itself it is not yoga.

It is about yoga and understanding it and that lets you do better yoga.
This description from Robin Mel may give you a deeper insight when next you attempt the Shoulder Stand

By the way the Iyengar tradition insists on the use of blankets or foams to support the shoulder which will result in a closer fit of chin to neck and chest.

Bunion Advice

Loren Fishman studied for a year with Iyengar in India before becoming a medical doctor and completing a psychiatric internship. He subsequently changed to rehabilitative medicine, which draws on a wide variety of tools and treatments and in Fishman’s case they include yoga. I mentioned his approach to bunions in class and replicate it here.
This simple treatment of bunions- the painful curvature and swelling of the big toe- consists of stretching both toes toward each other and then back to their normal straight forward positions; back and forth, stretch and relax. The exercise works to strengthen the abductor hallucis( a small muscle in the foot). Pumping for 30 seconds or so regularly, can prevent bunions and practiced regularly can reduce or undo them. Fishman said he developed the method four years ago after discovering a bunion forming on his own foot.
It went away.


Next time I will select a more spiritual aspect of yoga!

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