The Blog title poster above forms part of a series of posters I made up for a book, 'Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga Yoga', based on the public domain translation from the Tamil edition of Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934) . It's available for free on my Free Downloads page above. There is a print edition on Lulu.com ( Note: It's best to buy it in print from Lulu as I can reduce the price down almost to cost rather than on Amazon where I have less control of pricing.

Friday, 14 March 2014

CASE STUDY: "The Benefits of employing Kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) during Asana." Guest post by Mick lawton

Mick is an Ashtanga practitioner who has completed  John Scott's Teacher training

"I have a rare genetic auto inflammatory disease. As a result I am in the fortunate position that I get extensive blood and medical checks performed on an almost weekly basis. Without going into huge medical details, the tests include full blood test, inflammatory markers, kidney and liver fiction, blood pressure, blood sugars............, the list is endless". Ideal for a case study.

"As someone who has a genetic disease there are times when I can flow through Primary and Intermediate without ever questioning the sequence. However, during times of active disease I have to modify and question the sequences, often changing things to best serve the therapeutic repair of my body."

During periods of 'healing' Mick adopts "more of a Vinyasa Krama method of practice. Much more in line with Srivatsa Ranaswami".



"The Benefits of employing Kumbhaka during Asana." Mick Lawton

NB:Kumbhaka: Reataining the breath in and/or out on an inhalation or exhalation respectively.

For well over a year I've wondered why Krishnmachrya's breath retentions that are mentioned in Yoga Makaranda are not employed by the Ashtanga community.

It seemed odd that Pattahbi Jois did not mention breath retention when he wrote Yoga Mala. (Although, he kind of makes reference to breath retention when writing about Kukkutasana - he tells us to perform Nauli - which can only be effectively performed during rechaka Kumbhaka).
I was troubled by the fact that "this rather significant" part of Krishnamacharya's method had just fallen by the wayside. How could this be?

It was about this time that I became aware (through Anthony Hall's extremely informative blog)  that Srivatsa Ramaswami also advocated Kumbhaka in certain Asana.
Considering that Srivatsa Ramaswami was a student of Krishnamacharya for over 30 years,  I started to think it very odd that these breath retentions were generally being overlooked in other traditions that  recognised Krishnamacharya as their primary teacher.

I decided that I would conduct an experiment to see if there were any benefits / disadvantages to  employing Kumbhaka during Asana.

I have a rare genetic auto inflammatory disease. As a result I am in the fortunate position that I get extensive blood and medical checks performed on an almost weekly basis. Without going into huge medical details, the tests include full blood test, inflammatory markers, kidney and liver fiction, blood pressure, blood sugars............, the list is endless.
I decided that I was in the very fortunate position to run my own experiment.  I decided that I would spend 2 months practising with Kumbhaka and then 2 months practising without Kumbhaka. This process was repeated three times across the course of the year.  I was then able to compare my medical results while practising Kumbhaka to my medical results while not practising Kumbhaka.
I deliberately did not pull together the data until after the first year was up. I didn't want to see any patterns emerging early on that might then influence the future results in some way.

The Results (charts to come)
These results only suggest  early trends and only time will tell if these trends continue.  For me to build up a very accurate picture I will need to gather considerably more data. I need to gather data for periods when I'm "well" and for periods when my disease is most active. I also need to take into account any variation in medication that would potentially skew the results. This I have attempted to do in the  process of analysing the data.

During the periods when I employed Kumbhaka during asana practice I generally enjoyed  an improved state of health. This was reflected in my blood tests that showed lower CRP, lower SAA and lower cytokine markers for inflammation.
Generally speaking, all my markers for inflammation were lower during the periods I employed Kumbhaka during my asana practice.
This effect was further enhanced if I employed pranayama within 10 mins of Asana practice.  
The period when my inflammatory markers were  at their lowest was when I employed Kumbhaka during asana and then immediately followed the asana practice with 20 mins of pranayama.
I also advocate a slow, deep inhalation and exhalation.

I also noticed that after a flair up of my disease I healed faster during the periods I incorporated Kumbhaka into my asana practice than when I didn't.
I have come to the conclusion that I heal much faster if I employ Kumbhaka during asana. (about twice as fast).

I have stunned orthopaedic surgeons by the speed I have healed after surgery.

Just in case your wondering - for the periods when I wasn't employing Kumbhaka during asana, I still employed breath retention during my pranayama practice. However, the benefits to health were not as noticeable to the periods when I employed retentions in both asana and pranayama.

Intrigued by these findings, I started to think why? Why is breath retention having such a profound effect on my health?
I decided to research further and discovered something called "The Bohr Effect"
This then led me to discover the research of biologist Ray Peat.

Here are some links to get you started.

http://pranarupa.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/pranayama-carbon-dioxide-mitochondria-coherent-energy-flow-regeneration-and-individuation/


http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/protective-co2-aging.shtml

Correlating my data, I have come to the definite  conclusion, that the benefits of practicing breath retentions during asana are substantial.

What is it that really distinguishes the practice of Yoga Asana from other forms of aerobic exercise!?
We can say,  bandha, drishti, breath........,
The real distinction for me is Kumbhaka. It's is during Kumbhaka where the magic happens. It is during Kumbhaka that we can contemplate God. It is during Kumbhaka that we find incredible stillness. For me, it's during the moments of Kumbhaka that I can "stop the world" and see things with much greater clarity.

I am forever in debt to Krishnamacharya, Srivatsa Ramaswami and Anthony Grim Hall - it is because of them I have arrived at this point.
Curiosity killed the cat. Well not in this case. Curiosity has saved the cat!
I still have to live with the disease. It's a genetic disease. It's not going away! But the teachings of Krishnamacharya and then his student Srivatsa Ramaswami and then his student Anthony Grim Hall are making living with it a lot more tolerable.

I will post again to Anthony's blog, explaining my findings in more detail.
I just wanted to get my findings and conclusions out there.

Om Shanti

***

Thank you to my friend Mick Lawton for this article as well as for sharing his insights from this research over the past year.

Note: It could perhaps be argued that Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga retains an echo of the kumbhaka in the jumping back and jumping through, depending on our approach ( the manner/technique of our jump back/through tends to be left up to us).

Puraka kumbhaka after inhalation when jumping back
In the 11th vinyasa, keeping the hands firmly pressed on the ground, raise the entire body off the ground and balance it in the air without touching the ground. The 11th vinyasa is called uthpluthi. The 12th vinyasa is caturanga dandasana.

"Uthpluthi (raising the body from the floor with only the support of both hands on the floor is called uthpluthi) should be done on recaka kumbhaka for a fat person and on puraka kumbhaka for a thin person".
Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda

Rechka kumbhaka after exhalation while jumping through
"Remember to support the movement with your breath. Jumping through at the end of an exhalation, when you are completely empty of breath, is best because the exhalation also facilitates deeper movement into the forward bending position". Tim Miller

Links



5 comments:

  1. Thanks Mick and Anthony for sharing this. It´s nice to know about your own experiment and conclusion and experiences... Yoga is much of this, experimenting what is right and wrong with your own, in every moment.
    When there is no urgent, or real health problem, or important needed, that´s matter much how the practice is, just physical exercise is good, than nothing at all. But the urgency or a health problem make us a real searchers.
    "A needed person study more than hundred layers"
    I´m happy you are finding real connections with the health promotion than K used to do about yoga.
    I this moment most of the physical activity is searching for high performance, weight loss, burning fat, built stamina, strength... but health... Only sick people is worried about. The most view videos on youtube is how to get six pack, not interest at all in internal organs as Ramaswami and Krishnamacharya exercises are for.
    More investigation on this line is needed, how to improve health, but not only how to loss two kilos in one HIIT session. And for me the real study is to know the most important parameters, as yoga practitioners we can manage. Yoga practice: asana and pranayama is all about breath, but exercise is about heart rate. The actual approach in fitness and sport peak performance is how to increase dramatically heart rate to improve metabolism... but some studies are needed to contrast long terms effects.
    Ramaswami insist that yoga practice need to help all the system, not to force at all. When I study with him the internal organs course, he express that the heart should be help by some natural physical procedures and never force it (lifting heavy weights, or do many suryanamaskar...).
    How to find the balance? not to force at all and help? or as sport has showed, stimulated with high intensity and rest?

    It´s difficult to feel health in an objetive way, only biochemical parameters, as the result of your medical analysis. But for daily life, we can feel health only with subjective parameters.
    Like seekers, in yoga, just practice for me it´s not enough, I want to know the reasons K had to create this wonderful practice, and to know what will be the consequences of every different practice (asana, pranayama, use of breath in asana, mantras, and so on).
    Waiting for more conclusions on your own experience, and hope you could get more health improvement every day.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is really nice and ties in with some of my personal experience although I do not have hard data to prove it.
    Thanks Mick for sharing this, thanks Anthony for providing such an inspiraiton.

    This is what yoga is about, experimenting, experimenting, experimenting.
    The famous practice over theory, but it is nice when we can find theory validating our own experimental findings!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi. Nuno from Portugal. Really interesting post. I practice ashtanga at home and I have been experimenting a lot, because most of time I didn't have a satisfactory practice ending with a feeling of excessive energy and agitation. I always believed in the efficacy of ashtanga and I thought I was doing something wrong, so kept researching, trying new things, failing again, trying again, and so on. The things only started improving and being more consistent about 1 month ago when I started applying a medium/slow breath from the sun salutations to the finish poses, which improved my concentration in the poses and the breath itself as well as the dristhi. It is interesting to notice that with a slower breath, the breath retention at the end of a cycle of a inhalation or exhalation is always there even if for a very brief moment. Now I believe that the awareness of this very brief moment, of breath retention, was one of the most important things that transformed my practice and calmed my mind. I think this approach worked with me because I am an anxious person, with an obsessive personally and sometimes impulsive (what could be called a vata dosha :)). The medium/slow breath and the awareness of the breath retention (even for a very short moment) give me the opportunity to slow down and dissipate my anxiety leading to a very calm practice and a calm mind. For you to have an idea of my practice pace I take about 80 minutes to conclude the primary series. I do not want to speculate here but I think Mick and Anthony may share some personality traits similar of mine, that's why this approach works with us. Probably other people with other personalities types benefit of a different approach to ashtanga.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's a verinteresting connection. I practiced yoga for several years with no injury, then began practicing ashtanga, and had two serious injuries, that pretty much debilitated my practice for the long term. Interestingly enough, primary had no poses that did not already practice. The one thing that really changed in the practice was the amount of energy exerted, heat built, and of course, loss of fluid as a result. I pretty much just dried out, or burned out. That was my first conclusion, given that both injuries took place in high vata season, I'm a pita vata person, and I began to show all of the obvious sign of a vata imbalance. Before the injuries occurred, I had brought my concerns to the teacher and she said that these changes were expected and that my body was shifting as a result of learning Ashtanga, which seems to be a very typical response to people encountering injuries and pain in the ashtanga practice. I wish I had listened to my self more and paid more attention to my personal knowledge. Had I adjusts my my practice accordingly, I may have made it into something more supportive, rather than imbalancing. We live, practice and learn, right? I believe efficiency over exertion is key.

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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