This contribution by Rita Egger (naturopath and yoga teacher) complements our topic perfectly.
Positive effects on health manifest themselves on different levels. The best known effects are those of a physical-mechanical nature. In one example, the plough, the abdominal organs are strongly pressed together leading to a squeezing of blood out of the organs and a subsequent refilling with fresh new blood. This provides a cleansing effect and the organs are better supplied with oxygen and nutrients. The inverted positions are known to promote a return flow in the case of venous blockages in the legs and are even recommended to prevent varicose veins. Especially when standing for long periods of time during the day, venous blood accumulates in the legs, since veins lack muscles dedicated to helping the flow of blood upwards against the pull of gravity. When the body is turned upside-down, with the legs reaching upwards, the return flow of venous blood to the heart is aided by gravitational forces. This effect is directly informed by the physical and mechanical positioning.
In addition to this, there are beneficial health effects which are generated on an energetic level. They are to be differentiated from the physical-mechanical effects of a Yoga position and are generally less well known. With regard to energies, in Yoga, we speak of so-called prana-streams (life-forces). Prana is of great significance for maintaining and supporting health. It is sub-divided into 5 vayus or types:
Prana, the ascending, propelling, strengthening life forces;
Apana, the descending forces which encourage excretory functions;
Udana, the forces which carry upward and outward;
Samana, the harmonising energy which gathers in the centre and the digestive system;
Vyana, the energy that spreads from a centre into the periphery and aerates the whole organism.
The way in which we conceive of a movement, build it up by picturing it and then execute it, is of surprising significance for the circulation. Because of this, the triangle, or trikosana in Sanskrit, impacts upon our circulation and particularly on the venous return flow, even though the mechanical effect of this position does not by itself influence the venous system.
When practising the triangle, the feet are wide apart and practitioners direct the spine in a wide, elastic movement towards alternate sides. One arm glides downwards along the leg, relaxed and without providing any support. The other arm follows the sideways movement of the trunk, but stretches beyond the head.
Fundamental to the position of the triangle is that the spine is not merely bent sideways, but is elastically stretched out. To achieve this, practitioners lift themselves up from the solar plexus region (approximately level with the stomach) and the corresponding upper flank is also lifted far up and opened.
During this intense side stretch, it is important to maintain the support of the solar plexus region, so as not to collapse and begin to recruit support from the lower arm. For the duration of the exercise, breathing should remain as free as possible.
In order to promote the expansive lifting out of the solar plexus region, we need to consciously break down the movement into the following constituent parts:
1. Widely positioned legs provide a firm and stable base.
2. The shoulders, neck and arms remain as relaxed as possible throughout the movement.
3. The actual, active, stretching impulse originates from the middle back and is continued outwards via the arms.
For the person practising the movement, it is necessary to have a clear and concrete idea in mind about how to structure the movement before actually physically executing it, as the structuring of the movement is not automatic. If the exercise is executed without structure and with an undifferentiated, generalised bodily tension, it is nearly impossible to actively lift out of the solar plexus and the breathing also tends to be more fixed and tight.
An active and elastic lifting out of the solar plexus has a very beneficial effect on the breath. The breath becomes free and expansive. The expansiveness of the breath is further promoted by the wide opening of the sides. Nowadays, tightness and fixation of breath are commonly shared features in many people and may further give rise to a certain feeling of heaviness. As such, the breath becomes alienated from the actual air-element.
If the breath corresponds more closely to the air element and finds its expansiveness, the effect is always to relieve the body. For example, the so commonly seen symptoms of congestion are the result of an exhaustive state which leads to a block in the natural flow of prana-streams, and this in turn manifests itself in a tendency for blood and lymph circulation to get blocked. At the same time, congestion is accompanied by a feeling of heaviness. The effect of relief is therefore achieved because the expanding of the breath enables so-called prana-streams – especially the ascending, propelling and strength giving prana – to start flowing in harmony again. The renewed and vigorously flowing prana-streams unblock all organs, since the blood can once again circulate better and the lymphatic flow is also stimulated.
This particularly encourages the venous return flow to the heart, since, the invigorating quality of the expanding breath means that through the ascending prana the blood is no longer subject to the same gravitational force as before and will flow upward once again more easily. In contrast to the effects which can be derived from mechanical-physical laws, like, for example, in the shoulderstand where the inverted position promotes the return flow of venous blood, in this instance, the effect is derived from our conscious structuring of the movement which stimulates the expansion of the breath and the renewed flowing of the prana.
The triangle is an exercise that can be practised at any time and fitted around daily activities, say, during a walk or a break from work.