Spinal Movements Sequence (Part 14): Sthira Sukham Asanam (Firm but Calm) in the Spine

Simon Borg-Olivier - Sirsa ardha baddha padma padmotonasana

Simon Borg-Olivier – Sirsa ardha baddha padma padmotonasana

This video is Part 14 of a YogaSynergy Spinal Movements Sequence taught by physiotherapist and Director of Yoga Synergy, Simon Borg-Olivier, which he teaches in person in courses throughout the world as well as Online in courses at RMIT University  and Online in courses at YogaSynergy called Yoga Fundamentals and Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga.





Because I moved in the way I did (up until this video segment), I’ve come to a point now where my body is warmed up enough that it doesn’t feel like a stretch to take the head to the knee. It’s a mistake to stretch the spine and the hamstrings at the same time. The misconception that some people have when they start to do stretching is that they see people who bring the head to the knee, people who are used to stretching, and this might make some people say that they are doing a very good stretch. When in fact for me now that I am warmed up I am not stretching I am just resting my head on my knee. Not only can my head comfortably touch to my knee the same way that one might bend the elbow, no sense of stretching just a movement also my leg has enough strength to come to my head, it’s not a stretch it’s a movement. It’s all right to stretch the back of the leg provided the spine is straight. But if you lengthen my spine as I am doing now and have the back of the leg feeling like it’s stretching that’s where danger can come in and the spine might be at risk. So if it’s first thing in the morning for example, and I am stiff and start to go forward and feel the back of the leg stretching I will either keep my spine straight or if I want to bend my spine I will bend the leg as well. And that keeps the movement safe instead of potentially damaging the lower back muscles, the structure of the spine itself or the spinal nerves.


Of course you can get away with doing this if you harden the abdomen with the muscles of exhalation. So if I breathe in here [See demonstration of breathing into the abdomen], and then exhale gently and relaxed as I’ve done there [See demonstration of relaxed exhalation] with the abdomen soft the lungs are not fully empty. Also, to exhale fully you are required to tighten the muscles of exhalation. These are circular muscles that go all around the bottom of the trunk. So you see my fingers in my abdomen now, if I tighten my exhalation muscles, the trunk moves inwards away from my fingers. So it’s like I’ve wrapped a belt around my lower waist. This gives a certain amount of abdominal firmness and protects my back if I’m doing a lifting exercise or a straining or stretching exercise.
But the problem is because I’ve used the muscles of exhalation to tighten my abdomen that straight away reciprocally relaxes or inhibits the main muscles of inhalation which is the diaphragm. So it means then with the diaphragm inhibited there is an inhibition of the organs that the diaphragm helps to control and stimulate, including the reproductive system, the immune system, and the digestive system.
Also with these belt muscles contracted and pulling the whole spine inwards it blocks the energy and information from the trunk to the legs. So then to pump the blood to the legs the heart has to work a lot harder, the lungs have to work a lot harder. So, the movements that I am trying to do should not have to tighten all of these things if I want to stay calm. In the Hatha Yoga tradition of India there is only one description of physical exercise. It’s only one sentence. It says “Sthiram Sukham Asanam”. It means physical exercise should be with firmness but with calmness. It’s learning how to do stressful things in a relaxing way. So to protect the back I need to be firm. But to keep calm diaphragmatic breathing and stimulation of the para-sympathetic nervous system is important. The funny thing is that once you learn this you will not only be protected but it will give you tremendous strength. So if someone is just tightening the abdomen like this [See demonstration of pulling the abdomen inwards] they cannot breathe from their diaphragm. So, then what tends to happen is that their chest expands. When the chest expands it makes the body weaker. If the abdomen expands it also makes the body weaker. So when you see adept practitioners of eastern forms of exercise including the Chinese Martial Arts or the Indian Hatha Yoga – there’s also Indian Martial Arts and Chinese Yoga as well, but they all relate – you never see adept practitioners expand their abdomen or their chest. You can use the analogy of the balloon which a child blows up as opposed to the tyre of a car, when you blow a balloon up it gets bigger but the walls actually get thinner and less strong. Whereas when you add more air to a car tyre the walls don’t get any larger but actually the more air coming into the tyre allows it to become much stronger. So you can actually put a ten tonne truck on a hard walled tyre filled with air but something which expands like a balloon will just burst if you put more air into it. So the chest and the abdomen are the same. An in-breath which expands the chest will only make the spine weaker. An in-breath which expands the abdomen will only make you weaker. So in the Martial Arts, in Hatha Yoga it’s always said that you should breathe diaphragmatically but with firmness. So if I breathe diaphragmatically standing normally the abdomen puffs out. But if all I do is push the sitting bones forward the front of the abdomen automatically goes firm and the sides are relaxed. Then if I breathe into the abdomen it doesn’t move but because it’s a diaphragmatic breath I stay calm.

You can see a demonstration of the the entire sequence by clicking HERE

You can see Part 13 of the instructional videos of the sequence by clicking here

This video was one of a series filmed by David Samulenok of RMIT University for the course entitled Applied Eastern Anatomy.This is a low resolution version of video, higher resolution versions are available in the online courses.

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Comments 1

  1. I FINALLY get it. I was taking in pieces of the puzzle but it was all still contradicting. However I finally have the complete picture and can apply to my practice. And of course share with students.

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