Tag Archives: Kelly McGonigal

Sf-based yoga instructor, Stanford psychologist, yoga therapist, author

More on breathing

Alan Little again comments on an entry in this blog and an article by Kelly McGonigal. He makes clear that there is more to ujayi breath than just trying to sound as if you have asthma.

My acupuncturist, Kelly Welch, tells me that both in Western and Chinese medicine there’s not much known about the lympathic system.

For those who have not investigated the Art of Living side of the site, the daily practice includes deep, rhythmic breathwork. Three-part breathing with a 4-4-6-2 pattern ujayi breath; three rounds of bastrika (a bit complicated to describe in this short entry) and kriya sudarshan, which includes three rounds of slow (20 breaths), moderate (40 breaths) and rapid (40) breathing. Some observers say that the kriya technique is a form of hyperventillation. That might be the case at first, but after the first few session I have not noted any symptoms of hyperventillation. It’s 15-20 minutes of very active diaphragm movement — without having to breaking into a sweat as you would with exercise. I suspect that much of the benefit comes from the effect on the lymphatic system.

The Art of Living Foundation promotes kriya practice specifically for medical conditions, like cancer, HIV and depression. It says that it has medical research to back up these claims.

Purifying the body with the breath

I had a kind of eureka experience recently. I have been taking a route to yoga through breathwork. My Art of Living apprenticeship opened me up to the potential of daily pranayama. AoL pitches the technique as a kind of cleansing of stress and toxins from the body. During the initial training, the instructors say that the lungs expel 80 percent of the body’s toxins. That seemed like an exaggeration. Today, I was exploring the website of Kelly McGonigal’s Open Mind Open Body website, and discovered that they may have been closer to the truth than I thought.

Kelly, who has a PhD in pyschology with a concentration in Humanistic Medicine, says in Breathwork for Enhancing Immune Function:

The body’s biggest lymphatic vessel is the thoracic duct, which begins near the lower part of the spine. The thoracic duct collects lymph from the lower limbs, pelvis, abdomen, and lower chest. At the thoracic duct, the rate of flow of lymph is proportional to the depth of inhalation. The total volume of lymph that enters the central veins depends on both the depth of inhalation and the overall breathing rate. The respiratory diaphragm is the main pump of the lymphatic system. Strength training for the diaphragm helps you increase the depth of inhalation, and also improves your ability to breathe deeply when you need to breathe more quickly (i.e., during strenuous exercise).

Kelly explains gives some exercises to strengthen your diaphragm, but it lags behind my daily routine of pranayama. When I saw this article, I thought I had discovered gunpowder because I suddenly realized why a regular practice of pranayama and yoga help clean out your system in multiple ways. I did more research, however, and discovered that yoga’s benefits on the lymphatic system are known, though not emphasized. The contortions that we get into help move the lymphatic fluids through our body.

Yoko Yoshikawa explains in a Yoga Journal article Everybody Upside-Down:

The lymphatic system is responsible for waste removal, fluid balance, and immune system response. Lymph vessels arise among the capillary beds of the circulatory system, but comprise a separate system that transports stray proteins, waste materials, and extra fluids, filtering the fluid back through the lymph nodes and dumping what remains into the circulatory system at the subclavian veins, under the collarbones. The lymphatic system is analogous to a sewage system — an intricate, underground network tied to every house in town that keeps the citizens healthy.

The effect on my practice is that I will pay a lot more attention to moving my diaphragm, rather than pushing as much as air as I can through my chest.

A finger to the pulse with Yogoogle

A while ago, I mentioned Leslie Kaminoff’s Breathing Project, and made a passing reference to the mailing list, e-Sutra. At the time, it did not seem to be too active. Over the summer, a few mailings came through and it’s really proven to be an welcome delivery to my Inbox. Kaminoff sends out something called Yogoogle (no longer available), which is a compilation of links to recent news stories about yoga. Sometimes, he will add his own comments, but mostly the title, source and the lede. He is probably using Google’s News Alert
to find the articles. It’s a way of monitoring yoga’s presence in Western mass culture.

This kind of exercise can be frustrating since most news sites send their stories to archive within 7-30 days of publication, requiring that you pay for access to their past articles. In any case, it’s no small accomplishment to pull together these news items, throw out the dross, repeats or shortened versions and put it in a readable format. I know because I used to do something like this for another site.

He also sends out a bulletin board in which teachers can announce courses and authors their books. These tend to be centered in the New York City area, but can still be far ranging. For instance, it recently pointed me to the site of Kelly McGonigal newsletter (no longer available – MLS). She teaches yoga at Stanford.

Kaminoff also issues a synopsis of mailing list discussions, on a specific topic — for instance, yoga sequencing.

In other words, it’s worth subscribing.