Sunday, 21 September 2014

The 8 limbs - part III

Now the things are getting serious!

We've dealt with the bahiranga sadhana, the external practice... we learnt how to withdraw our senses inside ourselves, now you're facing the antaranga sadhana, the internal practice... here you'll deeply work with/on your mind, here the results won't be just better posture or more energy but real calmness in every condition, full concentration, clarity of mind and stuff like that...

Dharana is the sixth step of patanjali's ashtanga system. Dharana means concentration, concentration is the ability to focus your mind on something.

In general terms do you consider the ability to focus important in your daily life? Do you think that the improvement of your concentration will give you more chances to complete your tasks (or maybe to start them!!)?

The mind can focus only on a single object, you can't have your mind simultaneously on 2 objects, the mind is meant to be single focused... of course when you're cooking and something is boiling, something frying, something steaming, something in the oven, you're cutting this and washing that... you're alternatively rotating your focus between different objects to complete your bigger task of cooking for 25 people at your dinner with friends tonight so that all the sub-tasks get the deserved attention and the pie won't burn in the oven, the pasta won't become sticky (remember... i am italian, i'll check your pasta!!!) and so on...

The computer world came out with dual and quad core processors... and that is their way to achieve a real multi-tasking with 2 or more instructions processed at the same time by different cores... we still have a single brain so we need to optimize our attention, focus and concentration to achieve good results.

Imagine a big source of power, light and energy as the sun... it's projecting myriads of sun rays on our planet and you know exactly the difference between staying in the shadow or under the sun... that's a feeling of its power.
What happens if you use a magnifying lens? It will concentrate the sun's power on a single point and the result will be... fire!

The same principle applies to your mind, it's a source of power and energy but its force is usually scattered between distractions and thoughts and so on... thoughts are a form of energy, in a chattering mind the total amount of energy is leaking because of the inability to hold it together or to focus it...
...and this is exactly what yoga will give you, the ability to focus your attention on something, the quality of concentration, dharana!

When you can concentrate on something... the natural following step will be to hold the concentration on that something! The act of holding your concentration on something is called dhyana meaning... guess what?... meditation!

!?!? Are you serious!?? That meditation thing that i've read in magazines and books and seen on tv is just a concentration holding thing?!?!? WTF!?? What does it mean??!!??

It means exactly that...   technically meditation is "just" an uninterrupted flow of concentration on something... we've said that the mind is created to be single pointed but usually we scatter it in many tasks (let's use tasks instead of thoughts!)... we have the illusion to have a multitasking mind because we're thinking and organizing many things at the same time... but our cpu (computer style -> central processing unit... the brain!) isn't physically multitasking so it will execute only one instruction (thought) per time alternatively rotating between all the thoughts appearing in the cpu.
99% of the time the "instructions" appearing in our mind are just useless... for example you're doing your thing (working/studying/driving/washing the dishes) and thoughts about what you'll eat for dinner suddenly appear... or maybe about what you've eaten for breakfast... this is the thing: you can be in the present moment really doing what you're doing... or you can physically be in your room but with your mind engaged in the anticipation of future events or reliving past events.
Through the practice of meditation you will develop the ability to be fully centred in what you're doing instead of the classic situation of being somewhere with your body but with your head somewhere else, what do you prefer??!

There will be a following article going deeper on meditation, for the moment i give you one  example to understand the meaning of uninterrupted flow of concentration...
You are doing a classic seated meditation as you've read on the magazine, sit tall, hands on knees, spine straight, close your eyes, empty your mind... SO WHAT!@:!@!@!@@!@????!?! Nothing happens, i'm just going crazy!!?>!?
What you should be actively doing during your seated meditation is to hold the focus of your mind... for example you choose your breath as a focus... so you will concentrate on -let's choose- the air passing through your nostrils when you inhale&exhale and keep your mind on that... try now... you will feel how different is your mind state when is focused on something... and at the same time you'll realize how hard is to hold that concentration, maybe you'll hold the focus only for the first inhale and then you lose it... no worries, that's pretty normal... just come back to your focal point and start again... this is how the taming of the mind happens, did i say it will be easy!?!?!??

In the old sanskrit text Ishvara gita it is said that 12 uninterrupted focused seconds make 1 dharana (concentration) and 12 dharanas (12x12=144 uninterrupted seconds) make 1 dhyana -> now you're in a state of meditation!

A lot more to say but... got the concept?!?!? If not... ask!!!

And now, last but not least, technically after 12 dhyanas (12x12x12=1728 seconds of UNINTERRUPTED flow of concentration) you will get to the final destination of the yogic path, the state of Samadhi!

For the moment i'll not say too much on this, it's something that must be experienced more than read on a blog (even a super blog like this!)... just imagine samadhi as the stilling of your mind, a moment of pure calmness where everything is just pulsating and resonating with its natural rhythm, no right no wrong no this no that, just an unshakeable moment of bliss in an ocean of bliss surrounding and supporting you, a moment that maybe you have already experienced during that hug with that person or losing yourself in a sunrise watched from a mountain or looking in the eyes your just born new child or while peaking an orgasm or eating that awesome soufflé filled with hot chocolate or in that very deep state of meditation... anytime that your ego and your mind dissolve, there you are, that's called samadhi!

Just a couple of considerations...
First: dharana means focusing your concentration on something, dhyana (meditation) refers to an uninterrupted flow of concentration on something, samadhi could be described as the fusion with the object of concentration, no more boundaries between you and that, just one!
Second: there are different levels of samadhi... surprise!!! You thought of it as the final stage and now you realize there are more stages in the final stage eheheh!!! Well, that's normal... in any martial art once you get to the black belt... a new path begins to get to more advanced levels of your black belt!!!

Well, this was a way to describe the meaning of ashtanga, the eightfolded path of yoga, hope you enjoyed... more considerations will come!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The 8 limbs - part II

The 8 limbs - part I

Until pratyahara we are in what is called the bahiranga sadhana... gross definition of sadhana is the practice that we are doing, bahiranga means external... all the steps we took until this point are related to the external reality, yamas and niyamas are about we interact with the world at a behavioural level, asanas and pranayama are affecting our movements and breathing and will modify the physical interaction with the world.

All together the first 4 limbs will improve many aspects of our life at a physically external level... and this improvement will definitely start reflecting on our mind, it will start relaxing and coming a little more under our conscious control... or, at least, it will show us that it can be tamed!!!

Pratyahara is the crucial passageway, from the external work you'll move to working inside yourself, the step here is about withdrawing your senses inside!

What does this mean?

Imagine to be willing to sleep in a room with a big analogic clock loudly ticking, imagine that you can't sleep because of the sound of the clock really banging in your mind every second!

So there is you, there is an external distraction (the ticking sound), there is your will (to sleep), there is a sensory organ (the ear that is acquiring the external sound), there is a sense (the hear), there is your mind (that doesn't agree with your will to sleep and keeps listening to the clock), there is your reaction (it's 3 in the night, 6.30 wake up for some important job reason, you still couldn't sleep one single second but keep hearing every single second... any feelings???)
Imagine another situation, more entertaining... you are at an electronic music festival, the camping area is not far from the dancefloor, it's big and silent at the end near the entrance of the festival but your tent it's at the extreme side of it, right behind the speakers!!! So you partied all night and now you want to rest a bit, maybe before the sun comes seriously up and your tent will become a 55 degrees oven! The music is still banging and you can't relax, moreover you start thinking to the job interview you had last week where you arrived without sleeping because of your new noisy ticking alarm clock... of course it's the same clock of the previous example and of course it's a gift from boyfriend/girlfriend/parent/anything that didn't permit you to simply move it away or take out the batteries and of course now you can't go to the dj and kindly ask him to switch off or at least lower the volume...

Ok, now imagine to be studying or working or anything else that requires your concentration.. and many distractions keep coming, from tv or radio or phone calls or people around...

Reading a book at the beach and relax??? Good luck my friend!!!

A samurai trying to meditate?

Got the concept??! I don't want to make this post become only about distractions... i'd just like to point that outside your body there are myriads of possible distractions ready to stick to your senses and travel straight to your mind...

As we said pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from the outside world, this is the process of stopping external distractions to indiscriminately go straight to your mind without any control!
Pratyahara is a fundamental step in the yogic ladder because the next part of the work will be in and with your mind... here you really don't need to have any more obstacles coming from outside.

As you can imagine pratyahara is a fundamental skill to have in your daily life as well, the ability not to be distracted by the first passing bird will make you more efficient, more productive, more happy in whatever you're doing simply because you're doing it instead of doing for 3 seconds then scatter your mind 3 minute, then back for 3 seconds more and scatter again and so on...

Anyway to be more precise pratyahara isn't the ability not to be distracted but, again, it's the skill of bringing your attention from the outside to the inside... and this of course will let fall the outside stimuli and will favour your concentration... guess what??! Concentration is what the next yogic step is about!!

One very famous exercise that will train your pratyahara is trataka, i will give a very basic description, just to start!
Take a white sheet, draw a dot in the middle, stick it to the wall, eye level while sitting at (around) one arm distance... and now just look at the dot, gaze at the dot, stare at the dot... overtime you'll achieve the ability to fix your eyes on the dot without being so concentrated that you don't breath anymore, your mind fixed on something but at the same time relaxed, aware, ready! Of course you'll want to explore moments of deep concentration, a kind of going inside the dot... but the main focus -at this stage- should be in developing an "organic" ability to stick your mind where you want without flying around without control at the first bird passing ahah i like this example!
You can substitute the dot on sheet with the flame of a candle or any uplifting image!
Your eyes should be open and fixed and not blinking... for as long as you comfortably can... at a point some tears will be produced and that's good, you can relax your eyes now!
If you notice that the image you're looking at remains when you close your eyes... don't worry, you're progressing, there are more stages of this exercise even if for now i'm giving only a basic description!

So to conclude... pratyahara is the ability to switch your attention from the outside to the inside world, ready for the next step!

Friday, 10 January 2014

The 8 limbs - part I

We have seen that yamas and niyamas are the foundation of the yogic 8 limbed ladder to perfection.

Yes, you've read it right... perfection, this is the final destination of your yoga practice... maybe it's a very very far point from where you are now and where i am now... but that is where we'll both arrive, everybody and everything is meant to get to that point, sooner or later... yoga is a series of techniques that will help you to reach the "last stop" in a shorter time... i'm not intending 1 month or 1 year or 1 decade... i mean -if you are really lucky (or should i say if you practice with a 24/7 attitude?)- you can get to that point in this actual life... otherwise the next... or after 10 more or 100 or so... but strongly keep this in mind: You Are Bound To Succeed!

Let's put aside the concept of perfection, useless to ponder now on the meaning of that word... back to pragmaticality, let's enjoy the improvements on our body and mind that yoga will gift us, all the rest will come at the right time!

The next step of the ladder is represented by the asanas... they're the physical postures, it's the physical exercise you're giving to your body to get strength, flexibility, resistance, health, youth, longevity, balance and efficiency of all your internal systems, all the good stuff you usually get from a physical training... with the adjunct that through yoga asanas you can get one of the best physical trainings possible ever (i hope you're not thinking that yoga is just gentle exercise for elders, it can be that as well!!!)
-Remember, this is a "modern" interpretation of asanas... being Raja Yoga (the system of Patanjali on which the 8 limbed explanation of yoga is based) focused on mental control through meditation... asanas are originally intended to give you the necessary physical strength and flexibility to sit in a sitting posture for hours without the minimum physical discomfort, the game is enough hard to be played only in the mind!-

Ultimately asanas are intertwined with breathing, asanas will teach you how to breath, learning how to breath will give you deeper asanas... this is leading to the next step... pranayama!
Briefly... prana is the vital force - ayama means extension -> pranayama is something related to the extension/expansion of your vital force... sounds good isn't it?!?
Somebody will translate it into control of the vital force, maybe using prana+yama as etymology... in my view there is nothing to discuss here... the goal of pranayama is the expansion of your vital force through the control of breathing.
Very basic exercise with very basic instructions: check now how you're feeling in your mind and energy in your body, if you're mind is sluggish or attentive and so on... now have a series of long and deep inhalations followed by complete exhalations, regular breathing, same length of in-breath and out-breath, for 3/4 minutes... now check again your mind and energy levels... do you notice any change? Do you want another one? Check your pulse rate... than go for a couple of minutes of breathing with the out-breath much longer than the in-breath and check again the pulse... probably a big slowing down of your hearth rate happened? Yes, definitely breathing has a big influence on our body/mind!

Have you ever noticed that if you're angry you have a typical breathing pattern, if you're anxious another typical breathing pattern, if you're depressed another typical breathing pattern, if you're agitated another typical breathing pattern, should i go on? Obviously if you're happy you have another typical breathing pattern, if you're running you have another typical breathing pattern, if you're concentrated you have another typical breathing pattern... the most important of all: did you notice that when you have a smooth and regular and deep and relaxed breathing you are in a steady and relaxed state of mind, whatever you're doing, if the breathing is regular and relaxed you are doing it in a steady and relaxed state of mind...
You can verily say that your mood/mind influences your breathing... and you can verily say that your breathing influences your mood/mind, it's a mathematical equation... so if you exercise yourself to be able to sustain a smooth and deep breathing undepending by any external circumstance (this happens constantly in your yoga asana practice... are you upside down? is your head in between your shin bones? are your feet touching your head in an extreme backbend? are you completely twisted so that you face right but see left? in any possible extreme or less extreme pose there's the same link... regular and constant and smooth breathing indicating the same qualities in your mind!) you are fulfilling one of the aspects of the pranayama practice and moving straight to the next step... pratyahara!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Class promotion

The wednesday's class is always going on... but from tomorrow we change the place!

Last week has been a bit tragic... the students were there, i was there... but for a mistake of the place manager the room was not there eheheh!!!
Lack of professionality + not admirable cleanliness of the place = i've found a new place!!!

We'll be at St.Hilda's Community Centre in Club Row 18, E27EY, 3 minutes walking from Shoreditch High Street Overground Station, from 18.30 to 20.00, 10 pounds for the class.

It will be an accessible class focused on twists and lateral bends + core work... we want to clean and strenghten our system in order to take on the autumn in the best way possible!

You can pop-in or text me a confirmation at 07404675553, there are some yoga mats but if you like yours... bring it!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The foundation of Yoga - Yama and Niyama

Raja Yoga is also called Ashtanga Yoga (that is different from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga!) because the system is based on a progressive ladder of 8 limbs (ashta -> 8 / anga -> limb) bringing you to the final goal!

In this system you should approach the next limb when you are proficient in the actual one.

The first 2 limbs are considered the hardest... how should you interact with the external world and with the internal world? The answer is in the 5 Yamas and the 5 Niyamas... they're the foundation of all the system of yoga!

Let's examine the 5 Yamas... the rules to interact with the external world.

1- Ahimsa: not harming! This principle (as the others) has to be applied to all your actions, words and thoughts, towards other people and towards yourself! How many modern habits are harmful to ourselves or others? It's a very broad concept... from eating junk food to perpetuating unhealthy relationships is himsa (the opposite of not harming), it's not just a physical act of violence. Unjustified killing of animals or polluting the environment is also against the ahimsa principle.

2- Satya: be always truthful. Ahimsa and satya are connected... you should not harm somebody speaking the truth... your words can be violent weapons if used with an harming attitude. You have to find the right way, you need the right attitude to balance the 2 principles.

3- Asteya: non stealing. This includes non desiring what is in possession of somebody else... obviously from this desire originates the act of stealing.

4- Bramacharya: moderacy. The more common translation is celibacy... moderacy is a much broader concept, moderation can be applied to every aspect of your life, not only sexual life. Moderation is about doing something in the right way and the right amount, be it sex or your job or how much time you spend on facebook! Moderation is something really lacking in modern society.

5- Aparigraha: non possessiveness, limit your possessions to what is necessary and important. Again modern society with its extreme consumerism is far, far away from this principle.

I repeat again... these precepts must be the foundation of all your actions, words and thoughts... speaking nice words while wishing the worst for somebody is not only against the yamas, it's hypocrisy! Same as smiling to somebody while willing to steal his money but not doing it because scared of legal consequences.

How far is the modern society from the yamas? Can you imagine a society inspired by and following these precepts?
This is the foundation of yoga, this is how an aspiring yogi should behave in his daily life.
If you go to your daily class at the local studio and really don't care about these principles... man, you're really light-years far away from practicing yoga.
The yamas are yoga, it's not doing the scorpion or handstand or the 4th series of ashtanga vinyasa... yoga is following the yamas or at least trying to follow them as much as possible.
This is the reason why Raja Yoga is the hardest... the yamas are the entrance barrier, you can move further only when you'll be able to respect them!
That's why Hatha Yoga is the easier approach to Raja Yoga... the yamas are always there but you can start working on cleaning and improving your body, consequently your consciousness and your mind will be cleaner and clearer... this will bring you more in contact with the yamas so that you'll start naturally to respect them, now you'll be able to work on your mind. A pure mind is a mind that follows these principles, an impure mind isn't caring and respecting this basic foundation of a right living, do you agree? Yoga is all about purity...

The 5 niyamas are the second limb of the ashtanga system.

1- Saucha: cleanliness. You'll need a clean body, a clean mind, a clean environment. Only when you'll get to this point you'll understand that they're fundamentally dirty in nature... you clean but they'll tend to get dirty again. Your intention must become pure. At that point you will be led by purity!

2- Santosha: contentment. Whatever you get, whatever you don't get... be always be satisfied with your result.

3- Tapas: austerity. It's the effort you're putting in what you want to reach, it's the discipline you're imposing on yourself to get the result, it's being consistent in whatever you're doing! The friction between the yes and the no will generate heat, an internal fire that will burn all the obstacles on your path!

4- Svadhyaya: study of the self. Every study that will help you to understand your self is svadhyaya, be it anatomical or psycological or scriptural study. Willing to know yourself and your nature is the key to engage you in a process of constant improvement.

5- Ishvara pranidhana: surrender. There are forces much bigger than you in this universe, there are events that you can't control or even influence, accept your past, accept that you cannot know the future in advance, release your expectations... have faith in nature, have faith that you will be cared and guided to the best possible result, always and ever... in every situation you will just need to put all your heart, your mind, your body and your soul in what you are doing... and do what you can, everything will come!

Try to examine your life and you behaviour in the light of yama and niyama, try to see what you are doing good and what you could improve... be sincere with yourself!
Nobody is perfect, everybody can and should improve. The yamas and niyamas represent a good base to start or keep becoming a better person, day by day, month by month, year after year, life after life! This opportunity is something that yoga is offering to you!

Saturday, 31 August 2013

The 4 paths

Why so much anatomy in this blog?!
After this post you'll know why eheheh!!!

Here i gave you a first definition of yoga and what you'll get practicing!

Let's be more traditional now!

We agree that yoga is the merging of your individual self with the universal self, let's reformulate in this way: out there there is an infinite source of energy that is all creating, all pervading, all moving, all effecting... you can fill this concept with religious words or philosophical words or scientific words or you can just keep it as a concept... if you consider this concept unexisting you should ask to yourself what is moving billions of planets in all the galaxies around billions of stars, how these stars are producing their energy -the sun is a star, remember!-, how this can happen from millions of years and is going to happen for millions of years... you will agree that there are some kind of forces ruling the universe... there is energy, there is a source of energy... what is that? how does it work? blablabla?
In the universe there are forces and there are rules the are the effect of the interaction of these forces! This is the macrocosm!

And then there are us, with our bodies and minds and in-understandable laws and understood laws and billions of cells and there are energies flowing through us and ways to increase them and to dissipate them and so on... this is our microcosm!

There are laws effecting everything at every level, everything will have a birth, a growth, a maturity, a decay, a death... be it a person, an animal, a plant, a rock, a planet, a star, a government, a country, an iphone...

There is a principle behind the macrocosmic universe and there is a principle behind your microcosmic personal universe... that principle is the same... merging your microcosm into the macrocosm, harmonizing yourself with natural rhythms and patterns... that is yoga!

Let's have a laugh, look at these 2 videos from... the Simpsons! Hope they'll give you something!


There are many different people on the planet, with many different inclinations, so to get to that final destination there must be many different ways!

Traditionally in yoga we have 4 main paths:

1- Karma Yoga: this is the path of selfless service, for people active in nature.

2- Bhakti Yoga: this is the devotional path, for people emotional in nature.

3- Raja Yoga: this is the path of controlling the mind, for people of scientific nature

4- Jnana Yoga: this is the path of knowledge, for people intellectual in nature.

Again my choice will be to deepen only a part of the whole picture, leaving the rest maybe for following articles or for your personal research!

In this blog we are talking mainly of Raja Yoga.

Raja Yoga is the path of controlling the mind, it's based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and it's one of the 6 traditional schools of indian philosophy.
It's the hardest path... do you think it's easy to control your mind?
It's the path leading to meditation as the step immediately preceding the final stage of samadhi, or super consciousness, a state devoid of thoughts and fluctuations in your mind, a state of complete stillness that will make you easy to see the reality as it is, to achieve the "phantomatic" self-realization that is considered the ultimate goal in life!

Anyway, being a so hard path to climb on that mountain... there are other paths leading the same mountain!
Controlling your mind you will control your body... the equation can be reversed, controlling your body you can get to the control of the mind... this is the concept behind Hatha Yoga!

In Hatha Yoga (this blog is mainly about Hatha and Raja Yoga!) we start cleaning our body, we go on understanding and balancing the forces behind the functioning of our body... when these forces will be balanced and the channels through which they move will be clean... at that point the control of the mind will be enough easy!

Hatha Yoga is a mean to reach the state of Raja Yoga, it's a part of it! Other techniques as Kundalini Yoga or Mantra Yoga are all considered under the bigger path of Raja Yoga.

The idea behind this blog is actually to focus on understanding the body and to develop an attitude of physical well being... after we'll be able to work on more subtle aspects as the breathing up to even more subtle topics as the mind... exactly the transition from hatha to raja!

Back to the 4 main paths... all is the same one thing and everything is just a different aspect of the same one thing... don't consider the 4 paths as something to compartmentalize, please!
For sure you'll follow some guidelines but at some point you'll find yourself in very different ways of practicing... only the final destination will always be the same... even if your understanding of it will change!
Yoga is not just becoming flexible and strong, yes it is, but not only! It will be an evolutionary process impacting all the aspects of your being... including understanding what your being is, that's the self-realization, the ultimate goal!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Connective tissue

Let's spend some words on our connective tissue from a yogic point of view!

You already know there are 4 kinds of tissues in our body, connective tissue is one of these. Anatomically talking it is a kind of biological tissue that connects, supports and separates the different types of tissues and organs of the body... it's a big category including bones, blood, fat, cartilage and more.

Nervous tissue controls everything, muscular tissue moves everything, epithelial tissue is the external clothing of the body and the internal lining of some organs... all the rest is connective tissue!
From our yogic point of view we'll focus on 4 types of connective tissue: tendons, ligaments, cartilage and fascia.
Why? Easy answer... we work with them a lot during our practice and it's important to know them to practice in total safety... we practice to feel good and better, if we know our body we can easily get this result... if you don't know what you're doing, you can't expect the best result, possibly you could even get the worst... this rule is applicable on every aspect of our life, do you agree?

1- Tendon: it's dense fibrous connective tissue that attaches muscles to bones

2- Ligament: it's dense fibrous connective tissue that attaches bone to bone

3- Cartilage: it can have different functions, we're here interested to the protective and smoothing function of the cartilage covering the bone extremities in our articular joints

4- Fascia: all your muscles and organs are wrapped by fascial sheaths, everything in you is enveloped and supported by a single unique fascial web interconnecting all from your toes to your head!

We already talked of this stuff -> here, here and here! Probably it's better if you read or read again those articles rather than repeating the same stuff, do you agree? About fascia we'll talk deeper in a following article, fascia is much more important than how it's traditionally considered!

Their composition is quite similar, they all have in common the presence of 2 proteins, collagen and elastin, in different proportions. As the name says, they have 2 specific functions, quite opposite in nature (remember this? it's another case of the 2 forces working together!)

1- collagen gives strength to these tissues
2- elastin gives them the capacity to stretch at a certain level when a force is applied and to go back to the original state when the force stops

They're present in bones and muscles as well, in different proportions... we should not consider bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles as different "objects"... but as the same one thing with different proportions of their -similar- ingredients... there is the bone that is very hard because of large amount of collagen and very small of elastin... the mix starts changing and the structure is a bit more elastic but still very strong... we call it tendon... the proportion changes again and it becomes a softer and more elastic tissue that we call muscle... on the other side of this tissue the proportion changes again becoming more harder and we have again a tendon that in turn will become even less elastic and more hard... we have a bone again... got this concept? We give many names to the various aspects of the same one thing... if you don't agree it's all the same one thing try to imagine it without one of its aspects, for example take out from the organism the muscular system (we could not move anymore... how could we get our nutrition?) or simply one substance as elastin (now we're hard as rocks, what to do?) or the connective tissue (ready to fall apart?!?!). To understand how it works we gave many names... otherwise how could you be tested at school on the argument eheheh!!?!?

What should be our attitude towards them during our practice?
First... We have to keep in mind that we are strengthening them... the more you use (in a good way!) the more it's reinforced... usual fact isn't it? If you know that and you have the concept present in your attitude while you're exercising... magically it will happen even more... it's a trick of using your thought power in the proper way eheheh!
Second... when you stretch you should really forget tendons and ligaments... i mean you must not focus on stretching them, not even try! They're there to give stability to your joints, they're mostly made of collagen, elastin is there for not to break easily... ligaments can elongate safely around 4%... that is nothing, maybe 1 mm? Would you like to risk to stretch them so much to tear or not to go back to the size stabilizing the joint to gain 1 or 2 mm? Your muscles must stretch, there you'll gain centimeters over time!
Third... alignment and awareness please!!! Your cartilages like to be used in the proper way, the force bearing on the maximum possible surface (joint congruence)... not all on a single square millimeter in a goofy attempt to try a difficult pose without proper awareness of what's happening in your body!
Fourth... the fascia, that's what you want to work on!!! Soon an article about that!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Muscular system - Functions and yoga benefits

Muscular system - part I
Muscular system - part II
Muscular system - part III

We described in a basic way the muscular system and how it works... but what are its functions?

1- Movement: this is the most obvious function, you move in space through the contraction of your muscles!

2- Posture: bones and muscles together hold you in the position in which you are right now!

3- Protection: think of your abdominal internal organs... stomach, intestine, pancreas and so on... without the strong barrier of your abdominal muscles it would be very easy to severely injure them!

4- Breathing: it happens through muscles, the diaphragm (the main breathing muscle) is the biggest muscle in your body!

5- Communication: you talk through muscles that help the voice production in your larynx, you write and paint and produce art through muscles in your body!

6- Production of heat: muscle contraction is the result of a chemical reaction that has heat generation as side product... maybe in summer you don't like this but when you are very very cold your muscles will start shivering to help you to maintain your vital temperature!

7- Internal life: the heart is a muscle and you live through its constant pumping of blood in your body, muscles are present in your blood vessels to help the blood circulation, muscles are involved in many internal movements as the food moving in your intestine during the digestion and different secretions from internal organs... or simply the expulsion of urine!

Is this enough?

What's the relation between yoga&muscles?

To begin let's say that your muscles are 100% under the control of your nervous system! Then let's add that yoga is 100% education and stimulation (i don't mean arousal!) and improvement of your nervous system!
As direct consequence yoga will improve any of the muscular system functions... simply because it improves the efficacy of the system directly controlling it!

Furthermore yoga will strengthen all your muscles through the different poses you'll move in, hold and move out... in the image utkasana, the chair pose
Yes, he's obviously strenghtening a lot of muscles at the same time!
You will actively engage different parts of your body in the poses and some muscles will be performing an isotonic contraction while others will be isometrically contracting and others eccentrically lengthening... all at the same time eheheh, maybe a bit overwhelming at the beginning but very nice and enjoyable after a couple of classes... the nervous system is learning new movements and possibilities!!!
Strengthening your muscles you will do the same for your connective tissue and skeletal system!
The muscle contraction will generate a force that will be transferred to your tendons and then to your bones... this increased stimulation will signal to your body that those areas need to be reinforced... we have already seen how your osteoclasts and osteoblasts will do this job... the bone remodelling function! Muscular and skeletal systems are deeply connected... keep in mind that muscles require calcium to work... and calcium is stored mainly in your bones! Improve one system, get results on the other as well!

Your posture will change and you'll tend to be more aligned and straight... because you'll release unnecessary tensions from some muscle and start using some more efficient muscle in more efficient way... being aligned and straight means less required effort... you have a "silent enemy" always active... it's the gravity force!
Try this exercise!
1- Lay down on your back, arms near your body, palms facing down, legs and feet together
2- Inhale and raise your both legs 90° with the straight knees
3- Now check how much force you need to hold the legs in this position
4- Try now with the legs 60°
5- Try 45°
6- Try 30°
Do you feel the difference? Legs 90° means they are aligned with the gravity force line and your bones are absorbing much of it, it's enough easy to stay in this position for some time! When you start lowering the legs, specially at 30° the gravity force will be trying to push down a much more larger surface of your body, your bones will not help you anymore and you will feel it much harder!
We'll talk more on gravity force... for now understand that the more straight and aligned you are... the less muscular effort you'll need!
Through yoga a lot of tensions will be released from your body... often we actively contract some muscle (think to the crouched position we often assume in front of our computer or in the office or while texting with the phone!) but we "forget" to release them when we change what we are doing... some muscular contraction will remain welcoming us when we're back in front of the computer... this unnecessary contraction will increase day by day tightening itself... the result will be a stiff and tense body... obviously those contracted muscles will require energy to stay in permanent contraction (!!!) and this energy will be subtracted from the energy you could use to enjoy your life instead of carrying up that situation!
Doing your asana practice will release the tensions, give to your contracted muscles a rest, increase the activity of "too much relaxed muscles" (agonist vs antagonist means that if a side of your body  is always tight... as consequence the opposite side will be weak!) and start building a balanced structure on which you will enjoy much more your life!
Next step will be to develop a stronger body awareness... now you recognize which posture is crouching you and which one is opening you, your body will find easy to sit with a straight spine so you'll prefer it to a compressed position... your mood will change because your posture and your mind are strictly connected... if you never noticed it try to sit straight with your chest open and lifted up by your sternum opening your lungs, neck in line with your spine, shoulders in line with your torso, slightly open to the back and relaxed, chin parallel to the floor but slightly tuck in and have a deep and relaxed abdominal breathing. How does this position affect your mind and mood? If you find this natural position impossible to achieve don't you think you should start doing something to bring you more close to it?!?!
Now try to sit in a typical modern days position... shoulders and neck forward, inward collapsed chest, outwardly relaxed abdominal wall and internal organs, egg shaped spine, compression of lungs and air passageways, have a shallow, fast, clavicular breathing (logical consequence of the pose!). How does this position affect your mind and mood? Do you find any difference with the previous open position? Do you recognize the apparent easiness of the second compared to the first? Do you think that the second is more sustainable and healthy for you compared with the first? How often do you find yourself in the first or second position during your day? Do you think that a more natural and sustainable could be associated to a state of wellness?Can you associate an unnatural slouched pose to some typical pain that modern people suffers, lower back pain in primis? If you could choose between wellness and pain... which one would you choose?!?!

Your balance, coordination and skills will improve simply because you will start training these functions in your body! There is nothing special, nothing magic, nothing inaccessible to anybody of any age, sex, present abilities or condition... there's only one way: practice and everything will come... but the biggest secret is: start practicing!!!

You will be the witness of the change happening in your body... change happening as mathematical result of strengthening and awakening core and postural muscles, releasing unnecessary tensions, strengthening weak areas, reallocating energetic resources in your body, balancing your system, acquiring coordination and muscular control, establishing a new tendency towards a more sustainable and healthy way to sit, stand and move!!!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Muscular system - III

Muscular system - part I
Muscular system - part II

We've seen that a (skeletal) muscle has 3 possibilities:

1- To contract - this is the only "active" possibility, there is a generation of force that will lead to some result
2- To relax - this is a releasing of the contracting force, anyway being an act of release we could say it's active as well even if the action is the "un-doing" of a previous contracting action
3- To be stretched - it's normally a passive situation, it happens when the attachments of the muscle are pulled apart so that the muscle lengthens -> probably it's in the "antagonist modality" or maybe we're intentionally practicing some stretching technique (or should i say yoga??!)

Each of the 3 possibilities will lead to one of this 3 states:

1- State of contraction: it happens when you're doing an active muscular effort... but the muscle can remain in (partial) contraction when you "forget" to release it after the effort (muscular tension, stress and so on... we'll talk much more on this!). A certain amount of muscle contraction is always happening, that's the muscular tone, for example it keeps you ready for action or it keeps you in your actual position through the postural muscles

2- State of relaxation: the switch is on the "off" position and the muscle is resting... this very idealistic though! We've seen that the contraction level of the muscle depends by how many sarcomeres are contracting in that moment... let's say that more sarcomeres are relaxed the more the muscle is relaxed. In deep sleep or deep meditation we reach our highest levels of muscular relaxation!

3- State of stretch: this is a pleasant state with many benefits! How do you feel stretching your arms and legs when you wake up? Or when you are tired and sleepy? Do you get that refreshing sensation? Yes man, your muscles LOVE to be stretched, all your body LOVES to be stretched!!! We'll talk much more on this (hehhe it's a yoga blog, remember?)... for the moment consider this... your muscles can contract and can relax... but they can't stretch by themselves, it's a passive movement that requires action somewhere else, yoga at a physical level is mostly about stretching your muscles, instead of continuously contracting them as you do at the gym or running or in most of modern days physical activities!

Talking about contraction we can distinguish 3 types of contraction:

1- Isotonic contraction: the contraction shortens the muscle and movement happens... when you bend your arm at the elbow joint the biceps are performing an isotonic contraction

2- Isometric contraction: the muscle is contracting but there is no shortening of its fibers... because you're not allowing it or the weight you are trying to lift is higher than the force applied (if possible to apply more force maybe the isometric contraction will become isotonic) or the object you're trying to move is unmovable... try to push a wall away, that's an isometric contraction

3- Eccentric contraction (aka eccentric lengthening): the muscle is lengthening while actively contracting. The result will be a smoothing or a slowing down of the movement, you will have more control on it. Imagine to be standing with an heavy weight in your hand and the bent elbow... if you allow your arm to straighten without opposing any force the movement will be a quick jerk (gravity will quickly pull down the weight!) that can injury the joint or the tissues. If you release the arm in a slow and controlled way it will be because of the eccentric contraction of your biceps

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Muscular system - II

We gave a basic description of muscles and how they contract (Muscular system - part I)

We said that muscles are attached to bones through tendons, those attachment points are called origin and insertion:

1- Origin is the attachment to the bone less movable during the muscle contraction
2- Insertion is the attachment to the bone more movable during the muscle contraction

Do you see?
The biceps (i like to use them as example eheheh!!) have 2 origins in the bones in the shoulder area and 1 insertion on the radius bone in the forearm.
The gastrocnemius (one of your calf muscles) has the origin on the femur bone (the thigh bone) and the insertion on the calcaneus bone.

When the muscle contracts it will become shorter bringing nearer the attached bones resulting in flexion of the arm at the elbow in the first case, extension of the foot (technically this is called plantar flexion) in the second.

Let's make friendship with our body! Take your right biceps with the left hand, can you feel the soft middle part? That's the belly of the muscle! It will be easy to follow all its shape up and down, can you? Going up towards the shoulder at a point you will lose it, there is the deltoid and the biceps will dive under! Now go down toward your inner elbow... can you feel that at a point the belly becomes smaller and harder? That's the tendon! And then it goes down to attach to your forearm... you are in the insertion area!
Now try your hamstrings, the muscles on the back of the thigh! They are a group of 3, all originating at your ischial tuberosities (those 2 bones you can touch under your buttocks! We call sitting bones because you should sit on them pointing straight down, maybe a little on the anterior side!).
Sit on your chair and touch behind your right knee bent 90°, can you feel that hard stuff? Try twisting only the lower leg to the right side and then to the left side, you will feel them more! They're the tendons, you can touch one on the right external side (lateral side - biceps femoris tendon) and 2 on the left internal side (medial side - at the beginning they seem 1 but touching accurately you can feel the big semimembranosus tendon and the smaller semitendinosus tendon!)

Let's go back to your bent elbow... what to do if we want to bring it straight again? Should we ask to the biceps to "un-contract" and straighten the elbow? You can try but probably it won't work... maybe you can relax the biceps, put a stick between forearm and upper arm and with the other arm operate the stick to unwind the arm... mmmhhh... it's a bit complicated... and you always need a stick with you!

That's why our muscles work always in pairs to achieve movement... in the upper arm case there are the biceps on one side that flex the arm... and there are the triceps on the other side that extend the arm.
So in every movement of our body we can distinguish 4 groups of muscles:

1- Agonist: it's the prime mover, the main muscle envolved in the movement, the biceps in the case of elbow flexion
2- Antagonist: usually it's on the opposite side of the bone, its role is the opposite movement, in the case of elbow flexion the antagonists are the triceps (their role is to extend the elbow)

Agonists and antagonists are just definitions depending by the movement i am doing...
if i want to flex my elbow -> biceps are agonists/triceps are antagonists
if i want to extend my elbow -> triceps are agonists/biceps are antagonists
What is important is the concept: when i perform a movement there is a main mover (agonist) that contracts, at the same time there is an "opposite movement maker" (antagonist) that relaxes. We'll explore more this relationship when we'll talk of the nervous system!

And then we have

3- Synergists: they're muscles designed to help the agonist in its movement, to make it more precise or accurate, to give more strength or help it with alignment, they help to refine the movement. The biceps have the brachialis and brachioradialis as synergists

4- Fixators: considering that all the body is interconnected, these muscles stabilize some part of the body while you are moving another part... imagine to be in a balancing pose and your balance is weak... probably half of your muscles will be engaged in trying to hold your balance eheheh!!

Again a couple of videos to clarify all these concepts in your mind... i suppose that reading descriptions, looking at images, seeing videos combining descriptions&images is good enough to acquire these informations?

I'm not sure why i can't put the video player directly in the page!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Muscular system - I

Let's talk about the muscular system, again i'll try to point only at those facts relating our yoga practice and not to become too encyclopedically boring eheheh!

Our muscular system is made of more than 600 muscles, muscles are made of one of the 4 tissues composing our body... muscular tissue (as you know from a previous article, tissues originate (as anatomic definition!) when cells with a similar function organize together to perform that function

There are 3 major types of muscles:
1- Striated or skeletal, they can be voluntarily controlled to move the body, perform activities or mantain the posture
2- Smooth or involuntary, typical of your internal organs, for example they move the food inside your stomach and intestine during digestion. Breathing and blood circulation are assisted by smooth muscles
3- Cardiac, striated muscles that work on an involuntary basis, the tissues composing our heart!

Here i'll refer mainly to striated/skeletal muscles!

What's the basic structure of our muscles?

In a few words muscles are composed of many strands of tissue called fascicles that in turn are made of many strands of muscle fibers that in turn are made of many elastic "strings" called myofibrils that in turn are made of filaments called myofilaments!

Does it seems complicated? Maybe it seems but it is not... imagine a rope:
It's made of many strands of a certain material bundled together, in the same way as our muscles are made!
There are myofilaments that together make myofibrils (the basic muscular string, as you see in the rope picture), many myofibrils are bundled together in a strand called muscle fiber, many muscle fibers are bundled together in a strand called fascicle, many fascicles are bundled together to form a muscle... easy isn't it? Sharing the same structural concept ropes and muscles both have the quality of tensile strength, you need a good amount of force to break them while stretching their extremities!

What can a muscle do? Well, not many options... it can contract / relax / be stretched!

To understand how contraction happens let's look at the myofibrils... they are elastic strings, the basic structure of muscular tissue! Look at your biceps in the upper arm, they're made of millions of myofibrils (bundled on different levels), every myofibril is made of series of contiguous -even more basic- structures called sarcomeres:

In every sarcomere there are 2 important proteins: myosin (a thick filament) and actin (a thin filament)

they're the main actors for muscular contraction, the muscle receives the contraction order from your nervous system (we'll talk much more about it, for now consider it as your communication system... for example you decide to bend your arm, so the nervous system carries to the necessary muscles in your arm the electrical impulses that will contract your biceps resulting in the bending of your elbow), after receiving the order some chemical reaction will happen in your sarcomeres

when contracted actin and myosin will slide on each other shortening the muscle... the shortening of the muscle will originate a movement between adjacent bones at a joint (obviously i'm talking here of an isotonic contraction!) (

Have a look at these 2 videos, i'm sure they'll clarify all this explanation in your mind! Don't try to understand everything, in some part are very technical... just get what you get ehehe!!!

The overall contraction of your muscle depends by how many sarcomeres are contracting at the same time... everyone has only 2 options: contracted or relaxed. It's not possible for a single sarcomere to be slightly contracted... that will happen on your muscle when maybe 25% of the sarcomeres are contracted... obviously 50% is half of your possible contraction on that muscle and 100% of the sarcomeres contracting will result in your full contraction of the muscle!!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Class promotion

The usual wednesday's class will be advanced to today 19/8... from tomorrow i'll be off to Italy and the next class will be the 11th of September!

It will be focused on strengthening the body and gaining control on our muscles to expand our choice of possible movements. There will be some experimentation to implement new ideas i had from a course i attended in the weekend!!!

It will be in Brick Lane area, Heneage Street 16-18, at the Rag Factory, postcode E15LJ, there are yoga mats so don't worry, bring yours only if you like it, class will start at 19 (come some minute before) , 12 pounds for a 2 hours long class!

You can pop in or text me a confirmation at 07404675553

See you later!!