yoga seeds #12 – Valsalva manoeuvre

Here’s a wonderful term that you can casually drop at your next social get-together to impress friends and relatives alike! As sophisticated as it sounds, this action is what makes the throaty grunt that sometimes accompanies a big physical effort like lifting or pushing a heavy load or even a move during yoga class… Achtung! It’s not the best way to rise up to a physical challenge. It’s not a matter of aesthetics but pure physics. Here’s an explanation.

The organs in the abdomen are surrounded by liquid in a closed hydraulic system. If you press on one part of it, the pressure will be transmitted through the rest of the region, like in a closed toothpaste tube. On the other hand, the thorax is a pneumatic system filled with air with an opening at the throat. When the glottis is open, the system is at atmospheric pressure, but if we inhale, close the glottis and use the intercostal and abdominal muscles to press in (the relaxed diaphragm will transmit the “tooth-paste tube” pressure from the abdomen to the thorax), we can increase that pressure. Why would we want to increase the pressure in the trunk? To support the very mobile and loaded lumbar region by creating a taut unit that will not bend and to spread the vertebrae apart and relieve strain on the discs. The thing is that, when we do a Valsalva manoeuvre, the increased pressure in the thorax immediately increases our blood pressure. How can we get around this? Use only the abdominal pneumatic system by pushing down your diaphragm as if you were inhaling and

keep your glottis open while you gather your abdominals in and your pelvic floor up.

This not only avoids a peak in blood pressure, but also strengthens your core muscles (respiratory diaphragm, transversus abdomini and pelvic diaphragm in this case). Of course, resort to a Valsalva Manoeuvre if you need to rather than hurt yourself but, otherwise, keep the air flowing and your core toning!

Thanks to all my students at Yoga Hub Berlin, who inspire me with their practice.

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yoga seeds #6 – Shoulderstand and plow pose: giving space to the breath

The breath adapts to the different positions of the body, but if it we feel like we can’t breathe, then we need to back off. If shoulderstand (sarvangasana) and plow pose (halasana) feel difficult to breathe in, that’s no surprise. As in any inversion, the weight of the abdominal content is resting on the diaphragm, making it harder to inhale. So: great to strengthen the diaphragm! However, if we let the weight of the pelvis and legs just drop, it will shorten our spine and the front of the trunk, and we won’t have space for the air to come in. By pressing our shoulders and arms into the ground we will feel the trunk elongating upwards. Using the core muscles around the waist to hug our centre we can send the pelvis up high, away from our ribcage, giving the lungs space. In plow pose this will also prevent overstretching at the lower back, as our spine is supported closer to its neutral shape. First things must come first, and if one is a living being, breathing is definitely at the top of the list!

Thanks to all my students at Yoga Hub Berlin, who inspire me with their practice.