Cycling and Hatha Yoga – a match made in Mediterranean Heaven!

Cycling is big business on the Costa Blanca, and for some very good reasons.  Altea enjoys 330 days of sunshine per year.  Our roads, though admittedly rather narrow to allow for both peloton and motor vehicle, wind through mountainous landscapes, the glare sliced only by the purplish shadows of Mediterranean pine trees.  The air is incredibly pure, delicious to breathe, and the deep blue of the sea stretches out below, enticing tired bodies as they make their descent, whizzing downhill after a day of pedalling.  A healthier break one could not find.  No surprise, then, that five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Induraín lived for some years in Finestrat, just below the Puig Campana, and no doubt honed his thighs on these same roads.

Cyclists

You can’t miss them.  In the winter months, the roads around here are full of packs of brightly coloured cyclists whizzing around the mountain curves.  They can be a menace, it’s true, but I would rather the roads be full of bikes than lorries!

I rode a bike for years.  It was my main form of transportation until I was 34 years old, and even then I only bought a car when I moved to Spain and had a child.  I consider myself a lover of the pushbike, and an advocate of its use.  I regularly cycled 100+km/week, through winter and summer, up hill and down dale.

However, I will admit that years of cycling left me with unbalanced musculature that I only corrected through the assiduous practice of hatha yoga.

As with most cyclists, my leg and hip muscles were well developed, but unbalanced.  You may know that muscles work in pairs (agonist/antagonist), so any time there is too much tension or strength in one area, there will be another area compensating.  In cyclists, because of the forward flex, the hip flexors and gluteal group seek, but might not always find, balance. Lest we forget, the shoulder girdle is also given particularly rough trade on a bike due to the over-stretching of the rhomboids/latissimus dorsii/lower trapezius and simultaneous compression of the pectoralis major/abdominal/upper trapezius areas.  Let me sum up:  hunched over, head up.  Got me?

Yoga for Cyclists

The judicious use of certain yoga postures alongside controlled and conscious breathing can help to address these muscular and postural imbalances.

Straightening

I recommend the use of danda postures, that is, postures that are mainly symmetrical and whose aim is to straighten the spine.  These are “millimetric” postures.  What I mean is that we work a small range of motion but with great precision.  How do we do this?  Breathing, movement and mental focus.

Symmetry

Cycling is an asymmetrical activity – one leg up, one leg down.  To restore balance, we need to work with the pelvis, legs and feet aligned.  This can involved standing, sitting, or lying postures, but most beneficial is a combination of the three.

Earth Element

Cycling is, furthermore, an activity that is performed with the feet off the ground, and with a lot of wind passing over the body.  This can create energetic imbalance in the Wind or Air element.  The way to counteract this is by using postures that favour the Earth element, which help the cyclist to ground after a ride.  Attention on the feet, the rooting of the heels, the use of mûdra, certain types of pranayâma…these are all yogic techniques that can be applied in a healing context by a qualified and experienced yoga teacher.

Viniyoga for Cyclists

Viniyoga is almost unique in yoga lineages because it equips the teachers to design their own practices.  Unlike, say, Bikram or Astanga or Sivananda, in which the same sequences are done time and time again, Viniyoga sequences are highly personalised, and can be modified over time using the Vinyasa Krama method, or even, equally, on the fly, depending on who turns up to class. Viniyoga is an excellent system of yoga for athletic people, like cyclists on a cycling holiday.

So, if you are thinking about hitting the Costa Blanca with your bike, you could do a lot worse than popping in for a yoga class with me. Check out my schedule current as of 17 March 2018, but check back or subscribe because magic is afoot and I am on the verge of opening my own centre.

Peace, and happy day,

Rachel

 

 

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How We Breathe: Mouthbreathing

Introduction

Mouth breathing is an all too common habit, and one that can be broken through yogic breathing techniques called pranayama.  In today’s post, I am going to talk about how mouth breathing can become habitual, the problems brought on my this bad habit and some ideas on how to correct mouth breathing.

The mouth-breathing habit

Mouth breathing is always an acquired habit as newborns are anatomically unable to breathe through their mouths.  This is why many a parent of a newborn with a stuffy noses sweats in fear as the baby struggles to breathe.

As the muscles of the neck and throat develop, though, the baby becomes able to breathe through the mouth.  If the child suffers from repeated bouts of  sinusitis, catarrh or rhinitis, mouth breathing may becoming habitual.  The child may become so accustomed to mouth breathing the shape of the mouth and teeth is permanently altered.  

If a person gets through childhood without developing a mouth breathing habit, they may still fall prey in adulthood.  Many high-intensity sports, like aerobics, running, spinning, tennis etc. can exert the cardiovascular system and make some mouth-breathing necessary.  However, external stressors like a very competitive attitude, pushing far past the pain barrier or a lack of awareness while exercising (the body is moving, but the brain is chewing over past or future events) can transform an otherwise healthy activity into a less healthy one.

So, why is mouth-breathing so bad?

The lungs work best with clean, moist, warm air.  They are made of an extremely fine tissue and produce mucus to protect themselves.  In fact, the whole respiratory system has a mucus lining.  What do the lungs, bronchii and throat need protecting from?  Bacteria.  Dust and particulate matter.  Dry air.  Aerosols.   Smoke.  Anything that can get into the breathing apparatus should be stopped before it gets to the lungs.

When we breathe through the nose, the cavernous area behind the visible nose, called the nasal turbinate, warms, moistens and cleans the air before it enters into the lungs.  When we breathe through the mouth, this happens to a far lesser extent, stressing the lungs.

Then, there is the adenoid tonsil.  This is a lump of lymphatic tissue that is a first defence against invaders.  If you breathe through the nose, the air passes over the adenoid tonsil.  If  any invaders are detected, the early-warning team of the immune system, the helper T-cells, kicks into action.  Keep in mind a cute and simple fact about immunity:  an early response keeps infection contained because the invader has less time to reproduce, so the extent of infection is lower.  That’s why you need a strong, quick immune response.  Bacteria and viruses reproduce very, very quickly.  You don’t want to give them even a few hours in the body without immune response!

Helper T cells are arguably the most important cells in adaptive immunity, as they are required for almost all adaptive immune responses. They not only help activate B cells to secrete antibodies and macrophages to destroy ingested microbes, but they also help activate cytotoxic T cells to kill infected target cells. As dramatically demonstrated in AIDS patients, without helper T cells we cannot defend ourselves even against many microbes that are normally harmless. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26827/)

The nasal turbinate also slows down the entry of air into the respiratory system because the air has to circulate a little bit in there. In slowing down the passage of air, the turbinate performs another very important function:  it warms and moistens the air.  How does this happen:  The air comes into contact with the mucus membrane of the turbinate and the blood in the capillaries which is at body temperature, transfers some heat to the air.  The mucus transfers a little bit of water, and ta-dah! cold and dry air becomes warm and moist air, just right for your lovely alveoli.

So, to resume:  the lungs want warm, moist, clean air.  The nose is the structure that can deliver air in the right conditions to the lungs.  Anything else is second-rate.

How to correct mouth-breathing.

As with anything, becoming aware is the first step. Watch yourself and see when and if you breathe through the mouth.  What are you doing when it happens? Do you breathe through the mouth at night?  Does that Netflix series you like so much keep you on the edge of your seat and alter your breath?  Just keep an eye.

When you figure out the triggers, you can put the brakes on when you need to.

If you find it generally hard to breathe through the nose and are prone to a stuffy nose, maybe you can use some neti nasal irrigation, or saline cleansing.

If physical exertion makes you mouth breathe, or pant, maybe you need to tone down the pace so that you can breathe steadily and correctly?  I know that is hard in a group class, or when we want to reach goals.  But doesn’t it make sense to not harm yourself while exercising?

Finally, if it is emotional stuff that makes your mouth breathe, try to keep your cool. Most of us seek out stimulating stuff like video games, television series and movies.  When the adrenaline gets moving, the heart rate increases and we are more likely to breathe through the mouth.  This is a totally unintentional and avoidable side-effect of a very normal activity.  Becoming aware of this can help you stop it happening.

Mouth breathing and sex.

There is one area where mouth breathing seems almost unavoidable:  lovemaking. If you are lucky enough to have a beloved to cuddle and canoodle with, right now, I’d say go for it, mouth breathing be damned! ha!  I mean, if your lover makes you pant, it is probably a good thing, right? hah!  Still, correct breathing will make it even better:   if you want to learn about tantra, or multiple orgasms for men, you will have to work on your breathing technique.    Having said all that, the good folks over at Conscious Breathing have published a very complete article about the links between good, nasal breathing and sexuality.

Conclusion

Since this is a yoga blog, I will resume by saying that the practice of hatha yoga, and pranayama will help you to breathe nasally and makes all the above easier, more pleasant and more natural.

So, come on down to class, get on your mat, breathe deeply, feel peace and joy within, and shine your little light, dear people.  The guru is within you.

Love,

Rachel

 

 

Series: How we breathe – Introduction

Yoga can teach us many things, but perhaps the most important one is how to breathe.  Since I know a lot about breathing, I have decided to begin writing a little series entitled “How we breathe”.  I know that, with great frequency, bloggers start of with big plans to write a series, but things tail off after two or three entries.  Rest assured that here with Miss Rachel, this will not happen.  I am far, far too stubborn to do such a thing.  Ha!

Reflect, for a moment, if you will on this:  There is little else, other than the breath, that accompanies you, absolutely surely accompanies you, from the first moment you are born until the last moment you live.

You can lose a kidney, a spleen.  A heart can be transplantedA brain can be induced into a coma.  But the breath is there, coming and going, rising and falling.

Breathing and Anxiety

Anxiety is crippling us these days and the breath may hold one of the keys to overcoming it.  The defining quality of a panic attack is the feeling that one cannot breathe.  I have had two panic attacks in my life, now thankfully, many years ago.  But I recall the constricted feeling all too well.  I doubt that it could happen to me now.  Why?  Because I know “how to breathe”.  To touch ever so lightly on the matter, and more will follow, paradoxical breathing is the main problem here.

How does one breathe?

Breathing is one of those things that we thing we all just know.  But how many of you can name the accessory muscles of breathing?  Or say whether the internal or external intercostal muscles aid the inhale or the exhale?  Gotcha?  So, can you say you know how to breathe if you don’t know the mechanics of breathing?

Biochemistry of Breathing.

And how many of you know about the interchange of gases (CO2 and O2) across the alveolar wall?  Or the difference between breathing and respiration?  Or what the heck happens to all that oxygen, anyway?  There are so many facets to breathing and there is so much to learn.

Pranayama

Yoga has some amazing techniques to deepen and broaden the breath. I have tried many systems of yoga and practised for ages.  I will stand here and say that Viniyoga, the style I teach, is the one that taught me to breathe.  I can teach you what my teachers taught me.

Best of all, breathing properly is free!  Yes, people, you may have to invest in yoga lessons in order to learn, but once you’ve learnt, ain’t no one going to take it away from you…you are your master, baby!

So, this will be the first post in a series dedicated to the mechanics, biochemistry and yogic technique of breathing.  Like and subscribe, people.  And hey, if you have a coherent answer to any of the questions above, comment below.

Love,Rachel

Yoga practice – “Towards Inversion”

I am feeling generous tonight, and shall give away a lovely yoga practice that I designed last year and have taught a number of times to my dear students.

Notice that “B” or “R” means breath or respiración.

When it says “6x”, it means do the vinyasa six times.

When it says “6B”, it means hold the pose for six breaths.

Respect any contraindications and check with your primary care provider should you have any doubts about the suitably of this practice for you, at this given time.

viniyoga hatha yoga sequence
Viniyoga practice “towards inversion”

LUX (Nicolas Jaar Remix)

Here is a delightful, trippy, chilled-out track, just right for your yoga practice. Breathe deeply, be still on the inside but move on the outside. Practice and all is coming.  The guru is within you. Your path is just as personal and unique as you are.