Bhastrika. The Effects and Mechanisms of Health Improvement. Part 1. Bhastrika and Musculoskeletal System.

When practicing Yoga long enough one starts to understand the profoundness of the practices offered. Thus the articles become more extensive and require more time. On the other hand we have the desire to continuously share the new discoveries with the readers. What shall we do in this case?

Look for compromise.

Thus in terms of our site we are launching a new form – publishing the articles as separate posts. In this way the information will always be updated while the reader will be able to witness the origination of the new article.

Let us start from Bhastrika. We will try to understand the effects of this pranayama and the mechanisms of its effects on one’s body.

 1-thumbBhastrika (भस्त्रिक, bhastrika) is a pranayama or a breathing exercise in Yoga. The term “bhastrika” means “blacksmith’s bellows” that this pranayama actually resembles. It is a rhythmic breathing performed by abdominal muscles at the rate 90-120 breaths per minute. The inhalation to inhalation duration ratio is 3:1 (A.G. Safronov. Yoga: Physiology, Psychosomatics, Bioenergetics;  D. Brahmachari. Yoga Sukshma Vyayama).

Bhastrika exerts the effect of conditioning on many systems of the body, in particular:

  1. Muscular system
  2. The system of external respiration
  3. Cardiovascular system
  4. Gastrointestinal tract
  5. ORT-organs.

Let us consider the effects and mechanisms of Bhastrika from the perspective of every separate system.

The musculoskeletal system

1. Normalization of functional accuracy in the “spinal column extensors – abdominal muscles (flexors and rotators) – diaphragm” system.

When performing Bhastrika we involve the whole aggregate of the abdominal wall muscles — rectus muscle of abdomen, transverse and oblique muscles. We involve basic respiratory muscles – the diaphragm and intercostal muscles.

Besides, in the course of long-term performance of Bhastrika a person with inharmonious muscular body type may report dragging (as an option) sensation in his lower back. It means that the act of breathing also (reflectively) involves the extensors.

Classical Bhastrika is done at a quick rate – 120 breaths per minute (A.G. Safronov. Yoga: Physiology, Psychosomatics, Bioenergetics). In such circumstances the muscles shall be slightly lengthened; yet setting the required rhythms 3:1 (inhalation to exhalation duration) requires a fairly sophisticated sensing of muscles and their coordination. Thus it means that the main parameter trained shall be the conscious, fine intramuscular coordination of this group.

While training the coordination the state of the muscles shall be also recovered The tone of the spinal column extensors shall gradually come to normal as well, this been evidenced by sensations in one’s lower back. Total restoration of muscular balance requires a comprehensive set of exercises containing asanas and extensive pranayamas (abdominal breathing, diaphragmatic, full yogic breathing).

2. Training of the diaphragm’ fine sensing and control. 

As it has been mentioned earlier, when we do Bhastrika, the muscles of the anterior abdominal wall are slightly stretched. This is understandable while it is only under conditions of extreme economization of movements that the proposed tempo-rhythm can be ensured. Thus the act of breathing essentially involves rectus and transverse muscles of the abdominal (in case the pranayama is performed when seated), intercostal muscles of lower ribs and diaphragm.

Since the exhalation in done very quickly — its duration is 1 time to 3 times of the inhalation – the minimum of muscles is involved. As a rule, it is the diaphragm that takes the main load on.

When performing Bhastrika we master fine sensing and control of a truly royal muscle of the human body – the diaphragm.

 RespirationThe diaphragm (from Greek διάφραγμα — partition), or phrenic barrier, is extremely important. Its movements ensure:

- the spread of the lungs (in medicine it is considered to be the main muscle of inhalation);

- the blood flow through low tension circulation to the heart (venous pump) and consequently – the sound state of the cardiovascular system;

- the blood flow through the liver.

It is interesting that in medicine the opinion of the diaphragm to be the human body muscle that is subjected to voluntarily control either never or very poorly still prevails. (Campbell, 1958; De Troyer, 1982).

Manipulations with one’s body done in the course of Yoga testify to the opposite. There is a whole range of exercises meant for mastering the diaphragm: bandhas, mudras (Uddiyana and Tadagi Mudra, Uddiyana Bandha Kriya) and pranayamas (abdominal and diaphragmatic breath, full yogic breath, Bhastrika). The diaphragm is also involved when performing asanas – actively, albeit indirectly.

If to talk about Bhastrika, it is amusing how sophisticatedly the exercise has been by intuition matched.

Based on investigations carried out in physiology we know that:

  1. The firing of diaphragmatic motor neurons (the nerve cells that ensure the work of the diaphragm) shall be maximum in the course of fast displacement of the lower ribs (the so called excitatory intercostal-phrenic reflex) (Decimal et al.,1969; Shimareva, Glebovsky, 1975, 1979).
  2. While the tension of the diaphragm muscular fibers depends upon the original length: the smaller the lungs volume is, the bigger the active tension shall be (Kim et al.,1976).

They are the lower ribs that we activate at the early stage of Bhastrika.

Besides the average range of lungs volume in which the pranayama is done makes up 200 to 400 ml (subject to correct arrangement of muscular movements), this been rather insignificant.

That is, in terms of Bhastrika performance the rate of phrenic neurons excitation is high and the tension of the diaphragm muscular fibers is active.

And in general the generated expiratory load is considerable because of high frictional resistance to breathing that is formed in the bronchi due to high air velocity. 

That is, in the course of the practice we consciously form the conditions for maximum excitation of the zone that needs to be worked with, and simultaneously provide it with load.

In fact, these are the perfect consitions of the action that trains and develops the zone.

These are the mechanisms of how Bhastrika affects the muscular system.

To be continued…

Elena Akhramieieva,

Yoga Therapist, Yoga Instructor.

16. 09. 2014


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