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 #11 – Sitting up straight…

… is actually not sitting up straight at all but, rather, sitting up curvy! Our spine is happiest with its natural curves (towards the front at the lower back -lumbar lordosis-, towards the back at the ribcage -thoracic kyphosis- and towards the front at the neck -cervical lordosis-) and that’s when it’s most efficient in terms of managing loads, absorbing impact or staying still. If we’re starting to sit for longer periods to meditate or do pranayama it’s very common that our unaccustomed back muscles start to complain. First of all, make sure that the spine is in its optimal position. Sit on a folded blanket or a cushion to support the pelvis in staying upright and make it easier to drop the weight of the knees. Ground the sitbones by pressing them down and you will notice the spine waving upwards. Check your lower back with your hand to make sure it’s not curving backwards. Check that you’re not leaning forwards: the head is right above the ribcage and the ribcage right above the pelvis. Make space at the front, back and sides of the trunk. Rest your heart back onto your shoulderblades slightly. Make sure that the chin is not pulling up. Even with an optimized position, we might need to be patient as the muscles gain tone, and fatiguing them will not take us faster to our goal. Just persevere in building the position from the bottom up, finding your natural curves and rooting into the earth so that you can rise up high.

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