Here I am practicing the 8 main spinal movements underwater while holding my breath out.
Underwater yoga has been a favourite pastime of mine since I was a kid. My father (George Borg-Olivier) was a freediver in the Mediterranean Sea and, when I was 6 years old, he taught me how to swim a lap of an olympic pool underwater before I swim on the surface.
In my late teens my Tibetan Lama told me that traditionally (in the system he learnt) that postures where help for a long as one breath retention. So progressively I developed my underwater yoga practice know finding it the easiest place to hold the breath and be in a pose.
In this practice I take a breath in, hold my breath, go underwater and get into a posture, hold for some time floating just under the surface, then exhale fully and sink down underwater (to the bottom if it is not far!) and hold my breath out and perform uddiyana bandha, mula bandha, nauli and lauliki (rolling my abdomen with my chest expanded etc). Then, I swim to the surface (often still in pose such as the lotus as in the video here) and when I break the surface I inhale to begin the next posture. I regularly practice a 30 minute sequence of up to 30 postures in this manner.
Many years ago I realised that I liked the effects of not breathing so much that I decided to incorporate this into my land practice as my Tibetan Lama had suggested. Hence, although I teach most of my students to breath naturally in a posture (until it is mastered, as suggested in the Sutras of Patanjali, and as Sri B.K.S Iyengar had told me when I was lucky enough to train with him), in my own practice I regularly hold my breath in and out for extended periods of time while holding postures and while moving between them.
The essence of pranayama comes from learning how to breathe as little as possible and it is breathing less and building up carbon dioxide that gives most benefits on a physiological level, such as calming of the nerves, increased blood to the brain and increased oxygen to the cells. But often people use the muscles of breathing for reasons other than to get more oxygen to the cells. This is fine to do provided you don’t over breathe. With an understanding of breath-control you can use the muscles of breathing for benefit wihtout actually breathing. For example, expanding the chest (like inhaling to the chest but not inhaling) can pull energy and information up the spine; contracting the abdomen (like making a full exhalation from the abdomen but not exhaling) can give some stability and strength to the lower trunk as well as massage the internal organs; and learning how to use the diaphragm (like inhaling with the diaphragm into the abdomen but not inhaling) can relieve lower back pain, increase trunk strength, calm the nerves and enhance blood flow without the heart beating faster.
The simple practice I demonstrate here, which can also be done on land with normal breathing in either standing or in any seated posture including a chair, is part of our Yoga Synergy Fundamentals Sequence. Even while breathing normally this is one of the most effective and accessible practices for anyone and can give tremendous release of back and other pain as well as significantly increasing energy levels, improving functional core strength, reducing stress and improving the health of your internal organs.
You can learn much more about this sequence and how it can help you in our blogs at www.yogasynergy.com . Here you can also read about our international workshops, retreats and teacher training courses (I will be in Europe all of July this year and later this year in Chile, Dubai and Thailand), as well as our online courses on the applied anatomy and physiology of yoga and the therapeutic effects of posture, movement and breathing.
Thanks to Jorge Invernon for braving the cold and pouring rain above us to film this yesterday.
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