In a recent interview with La Pochette (https://lapochette.co/blogs/le-journal/fashioning-a-new-path), they asked if I could suggest a simple breathing technique that their viewers may use in stressful moments... one of the best ways to calm our nerves is to lengthen our exhalation, as we breath nasally down to the belly.
[ 6-Count Breath with Hakini Mudra ]
In Yoga Therapy, we consider if a treatment needs ‘Bhramana’ or ‘Langhana’ qualities, in other words, if it needs to energise or unwind.
Inhalations are intrinsically ‘Brahmana’, i.e. nourishing, whilst exhalations are ‘Langhana’, i.e. cleansing, hence why longer breaths out encourage release.
By adopting Hakini Mudra, ‘Gesture of the Goddess Hakini’, we invite balance & harmony to all levels of our being & enhances the circulation throughout our systems.
Nasal breathing slows the pace down & when we breath into the belly, we activate the vagus nerve (which runs from the abdomen through the organs to the brain) whose function is to regulate the parasympathetic nervous systems, which manages the ‘rest & digest’ response in the body & mind. Hence why, this simple technique may soothe & offer a sense of calm at moments of anxiety.
*An instructional video of this breathing practice is posted on my Instagram & Facebook. Click on the icons below to be redirected. Take note that the practice can also be done seated too.
**Sweat Bag in Ink by La Pochette featured here
LA Pochette’s mission is to remove ‘hidden’single use plastic from our daily lives. They adopt a circular approach to design, transforming waste into high performance fabrics that’s intended to last. This bag I’ve been using is a great example & is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. To purchase one at a 15% discount, use my code hongyihuang15 (valid till 28 Feb for 1 use per person)
Since we’re on the subject of the core muscles, it would be a great opportunity to look at some poses where the core is habitually disengaged. Utthita Parsvakonasana aka Extended Side Angle – an asana that’s popular and universally taught throughout vinyasa classes. Typically, we transition into the pose from Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), so the front knee is bent while the back knee stays straight, with hips and chest side-facing and arms reaching out in opposite directions.
Without going into too much detail… moving into Utthita Parsvakonasana – the instruction will be to lower the front elbow to knee while the top arm extends over the head. What tends to happen is that students would lean from their elbow into the knee, essentially using the knee to support their body weight. You may even notice the curving in of the lower side torso as a result from leaning.
Sadly, this compromises the intention of the pose. In Extended Side Angle, one should experience the sensation of elongating, not only from the top side torso by the lower side too. To create length, start by grounding through the feet to bring steadiness to your stance. Activate the core muscles using that bracing action, squeezing in the entire trunk area.
With core engaged, the upper body feels sturdy and instantly lifted. Find lightness in the elbow that rests on the knee; this feeling of contact adds to the overall stability of the pose. Extend through the top arm and reach through the fingertips.
The mention of core muscles would lead most people to think of those coveted ‘washboard 6-pack’ but with any exercise or movement discipline, this reference goes beyond the front abdominal muscles.
Emphasis on the core is common in many physical disciplines. Why is that? Many people trained for aesthetic and strengthening reasons, though it’s not unusual to see them overly focusing on the frontal area in a bid to achieve these ‘washboard abs’. Perhaps we tend to notice only what we can see, forgetting that we’re 3-dimensional beings after-all. The word ‘core’ indicates centre or the heart of an object and we’re forgetting that our core muscles would include the sides and the back of our body too.
In other words, the core muscles are like a belt that wraps around the trunk of our body, it’s key function which is to offer stability and equilibrium, supporting the spine from excessive load and consequently preventing the ease to injuries. It acts as a link between upper and lower body, bridging the action/reaction relationship between top and bottom.
To better understand this area of the body, I’m focusing on a few key areas of the core…
[ Front & Sides ]
Rectus Abdominis – frontal superficial abdominal muscle (the washboard abs in other words…) that supports forward folding movements and is strengthened by crunch exercises.
External Obliques – frontal side abdominal muscles that’s strengthened through side-bending and opposite side rotation movements.
Internal Obliques – Muscles that wrap around the waist, lies under the external obliques and above the transverse abdominis, supporting side-bending and same-side rotation movements.
In other words, during a twisted-crunch exercise where the left shoulder rotates to right hip – muscular contraction occurs in the right internal oblique and left external oblique!
Transverse Abdominis – Deepest side abdominal muscles; considered one of the most important component of the core whose function is to compress and provide stability. Activated through hollowing or bracing actions such as maintaining an overall squeezing action of the core during High Plank.
[ Back ]
Multifidus – Series of small muscles that travel from base up the length of the spine; supports spinal extension and rotation so asanas such as Bird Dog is strengthening for the area.
Erector Spinae – A group of back muscles that run from sacrum to base of the skull; supports extension and side-bending actions of the spine hence it’s strengthened by poses such as Salambasana or Utkatasana.
Quadratus Lumborum – Deepest abdominal muscle in the lower back, between the top of pelvis and lowest rib. Supports side-bends and extension of the spine, so it’s strengthened by poses such as Vasisthasana.
NYE has always brought an air of optimism and positivity, but the streets which are typically alive with celebration felt abandoned last night, its emptiness made more apparent by the mist from the fog.
2020 has been a year like no other… we’ve learnt to entertain and occupy ourselves within the confines of our walls, and many have found the joy in cooking. I certainly appreciate the time to make my own meals from scratch but I also love making dishes out of excess ingredients or leftover food. This Christmas, we found ourselves receiving plenty of gifts of chocolate. Consuming them all on their own however, would be a stretch so I’m using it as an ingredient for a dessert.
Banana breads are one of my favourite sweets as they taste best when made with the fruit that have gone soft and no one wishes to eat. The bake is sweetened and scented by these ripened, mashed bananas, and in this recipe, I’m using the excess chocolate I’ve received plus walnut pieces to further enhance its taste and bite.
To view the recipe and baking instructions, go to my blog on hongyitheyogi.com.
Wishing all a Happy New Year and a year to look forward to!!! x
Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate & Walnuts
2-3 ripened, soft bananas (roughly mashed)
100g walnuts (chopped into small pieces)
75g dark chocolate (diced into small chunks)
2 x eggs (beaten)
250g self-raising flour
100g unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
Pinch of salt (I used pink Himalayan salt but any type would work)
150g caster sugar
Preheat fan oven at 180°C. Combine the flour, salt and sugar into a big mixing bowl. Add the cooled, liquified butter. Give it a quick stir, followed by the beaten eggs, this time mixing all the ingredients up well. Once the mixture is of a good, pasty consistency, you can add the remaining ingredients – mashed bananas, chocolate chunks and walnut pieces. Stir in thoroughly, ensuring that these ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the bread mixture.
Prepare your loaf tin, glaze with butter and line it with baking paper. Pour the mixture into your loaf tin, place it on a medium shelf and bake for 50-55 minutes.
Remove when time is up and check that the bread is baked through by inserting a cocktail stick or thin metal pin down the centre. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then remove it from the tin and sit the loaf on a wire rack to cool it down completely.
Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate & Walnuts is ready to serve. Eat on its own or have it toasted with jam.
*A shorter version of this story appears on my Facebook and IG posts. Please follow me by clicking on the icons below.
Hongyi the yogi
Full-time yoga teacher & trainee yoga therapist in London. Eager to share, eager to learn!