Hello lovely yogi friends, it's BT. For a lot of you, it's probably the first time you receive my Yoga Quick Dive email. Fret not, this won't take more than 5 minutes of your screen time (scroll fast!). Take a quick dive with me into a Body, Mind and Life topic, something related to Yoga, or not! Life is full of wonders to explore, isn't it.
But before that, a quick reminders about things happening soooooon. Click on the green link to see more details and sign up, and while you're at it, why don't you check out my whole new website?
This Saturday 27th May at 11am: Fresh Air Yoga in Yoyogi Park (one hour)
This week's quick dive: Side Plank, Breath Retention and Grow New Brain Cells.
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Vasisthasana, or Side Plank Pose, is named after the great Indian sage Vasistha. The story begins with Prince Rama, who was an incarnation of Vishnu, one of three main Hindu gods responsible for the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe. Prince Rama appeared on earth to restore dharma, or righteousness. But after his travels throughout the world, where he witnessed many devastating events, he fell into a deep state of depression. Vasistha saw this state of mind as a great opportunity, however. “One must first see cracks in the ceiling before one can start to see the light shining through it.” Prince Rama was actually on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough, he just didn’t know it. He was skeptical. His lack of vision clouded his perception, but Vasistha showed him that it was this clouded vision that would help him to find clarity. The teachings and conversations between Vasistha and Prince Rama later became the Yoga Vasistha, one of the main yoga philosophy and mythology texts. Rama later became one of the most well revered kings in Indian history. Vasistha’s teachings are thought to be responsible for Ram’s great achievements and success in life. The symbolism of Vasisthasana - Side Plank Pose - is evident in the pose itself. A careful balance on one hand, the pose requires focus on what’s important. Clouded vision often arises at first, but clear focus is required to truly maintain the posture. With the body facing one direction, only part of the whole truth is seen. One must turn to complete the pose on the other side to view another perspective. This aspect of the pose reflects the challenge King Rama faced when he met Vasistha. (According to Yoga Sancturary)
Breathe more, or less? Kumbhaka Pranayama
Now, did you try the Side Plank Pose above? Did you notice that you held your breath at some point?
Yoga and breathing (pranayama) go hand in hand, and very often in a yoga class, you are instructed to breathe more. But actually, less is the new more! Kumbhaka pranayama, or breath retention, is when you purposely breathe less by holding your breath after an inhalation and before the exhalation.
Kumbhaka is practiced at first in a 1-1-2 ratio, so whatever you're inhaling for, you hold your breath for the same amount, and then exhale for the double amount. When you become comfortable in the next stages, the ratio becomes 1-2-2, then 1-3-2 and final step 1-4-2 (so if your inhale is for 10 you hold for 40 and exhale for 20).
Kumbhaka has a few clear benefits to your body and especially your mind:
It is believed to strengthen the diaphragm (your main breathing muscle), increase lung capacity, and cleanse the respiratory system (by cleansing the residual air or dead space air and alveolar air).
It activates the respiratory center in the brain. This is due to the increase in carbon dioxide during retention which triggers the brain for better oxygen retention and interchange.
As it increased oxygen retention and the amount of oxygen in the blood, Kumbhaka helps improve health, enhance concentration and memory, and relieve the body and the mind of stress and anxiety.
I usually practice Kumbhaka with the 3-part Yogic Breathing (read about it in my previous Yoga Quick Dive #3, #20 and #21). It might need a little bit of practice at first to train your lungs, but it will get easier and you will be surprised by how much more lung capacity you gain. Oh hey, if you're training for free diving, it's a good practice!
Anything above the Earth and below the Sun is Life. Hopefully something useful to you, or at least something that will bring a smile to your face. 😊
Neurogenesis - Grow New Brain Cells
Talking about enhancing memory with breath retention, is your memory improving or deteriorating with age? We have always been taught that the brain was one of the few parts of the body that can't regenerate. That's why it's harder for older people to learn new things, such as new languages.
Well, we have been wrong. A fairly new science has emerged to prove that We Can Grow New Brain Cells. This is called Neurogenesis. Neuroscientist Sandrine Thuret talked about it in her TED Talk You can grow new brain cells (get excited for here delicious French accent). That is happening in your hippocampus, the part of our brain responsible for learning and memory, but also mood and emotion. Furthermore, she says, there are natural activities that encourage and discourage neurogenesis, such as:
Sleep deprivation, aging, and stress? Less neurogenesis 🚫
Alcohol (sorry, but probably not a surprise)? Less neurogenesis 🚫
High saturated fat and high sugar diets? Less neurogenesis 🚫
Learning? More neurogenesis ✅
Sleep, sex and running? More neurogenesis ✅ (unless too much sex leads to sleep deprivation!!)
Omega-3 fatty acids (in salmon), caffeine and resveratrol (in red wine)? More neurogenesis ✅
Also, specifically, spacing the time between your meals (i.e. intermitten fasting)? More neurogenesis ✅
(Did you notice the conflict between alcohol 🚫 and red wine ✅? I'll leave it to you to interpret with some more research...)
Doesn't that all make you feel hopeful? Even small changes in your daily lifestyle might help improve memory and fight negative emotions. Why not give a few of them a try?
Thanks for reading! But don't leave just yet!
Ask me TWO questions or leave me TWO comments below. I'd love to hear from you.
Until then, take a deep breath and keep your worries away!
Yoga Quick Dive is a series of bimonthly newsletters that should take no more than 5 minutes of your reading time. Let's deep dive quickly into 3 topics: Body, Mind and Life.