So few in India, where yoga’s roots dig in deep, actually utilize the posture practices of yoga that has made it so popular in the West. Many in the East see yoga as devotional in nature (similar to the way Americans view churches and temples) and the norm is not to do formal practices other than meditation or prayer.

Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga and is generally known to be the understanding of the subtle energies of the body through the use of the breath. Many Indians do formalize their practices to include pranayama—many more do this than the postures with which we are familiar. Kapalabhati breathing, or the “Breath of Fire” is known to be very beneficial in strengthening muscle memory for proper breathing. In so doing, the abdominal cavity is cleansed and toned, circulation increases, and the “fire” of digestion is strengthened.

With all of these items in play, metabolism increases, happy hormones are released and life is just generally better. A great happy-fication practice with only great happy-fying side effects!

 

“Breath of Fire” Breathing Exercise:

Sit upright in a comfortable position, on the floor with your legs crossed in front of you. Lift your tailbone off the floor by sitting upright with your belly pulled in and spine long and tall. Relax your hips and shoulders—all of this work is done with the belly and back muscles, not with hips or shoulders.

Inhale deeply and exhale fully, “crunching” the abdominal cavity at the very end. Then repeat the last pump of that crunch beginning with 4 repetitions of 27 Kapalabhati breaths. To understand this better, the inhale is needed and should be taken, but not at all emphasized. The attempt is at keeping the low belly drawing in and pumping on a rhythm that you create, about one second apart. It’s like doing upright crunches and you should feel engagement in the entire front of the abdominal wall, especially in the area below the navel.

Veteran Yogi and instructor Lyndsay Bahn, of Jyotishmati Yoga Shala of Chapel Hill, NC, says “This kind of a practice, done a few times a week, improves the strength of the abdomen and the digestive fire through the empowerment of the use of our own will. It’s like a devotional crunch and cleanse meditation.”

It’s always recommended to learn breath work from a practiced and experienced teacher, so though this exercise is suggested for everyone, except for pregnant women, it’s a great idea to check out a yoga school near you that teaches this practice. You never know—the happy-fication of you could include your newest pilates or yoga instructor!

No matter how you choose to do it, work up to 3-4 rounds of 108 and watch the happy-fication continue!

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Yes you do.

Core strength comes from proper posture as the body moves.  Like so many things, it’s not so much what you do, but how you are doing whatever it is that you do.

We walk around all day long, and every time our spines are upright, we have the opportunity to engage the core muscles. With a little bit of anatomy instruction, a strong stable torso is just a focused concentration of holding the body into an intelligent and happy-fied place!

Anatomy helps tremendously. The most popularly-known among the core muscles are the rectus abdominus, which are considered the 6-pack muscles. These lovely washboard aesthetics may look nice, but they do not imply core strength. What?! Sorry!

Core strength primarily comes from the transverse abdominus, which is a wall of muscle that spans the abdomen from the bottom of the torso all the way to the base of the ribcage, spanning in width from side body to side body, protecting the vital organs and empowering digestion.

This muscular wall works with the hip flexors and back muscles to hold up the space between the hips and the ribs. And it is one of the most vulnerable in the body for the spine, as only the core muscles are in place to hold up the lumbar region of the spine; no other skeletal support is offered.

So what is the #1 reason Americans visit general practitioners? Low back pain. And the number one reason? Weak core muscles.

Physical therapists suggest strengthening these muscles through various ways, such as leg lifts, gentle lower back extension exercises, yoga, and pilates for sure, but this area of the body can be worked as much as possible — the abdominal muscles can never get too much exercise.

So right now, check in and take a look at your pelvis. Are you drawing your abdomen in or sticking it out? Or was the belly just relaxed? Sitting upright, which is an activity we do quite often, is most efficiently performed with the abdominal wall drawing in as the back muscles balance the back of the spine, holding it up like a wooden spoon in the middle of a pot of soup.

Now, draw in your abdomen, sit up a little higher over your tailbone, and let your tailbone get longer by pulling it down and then readjusting to lift back off of it. You should feel as though you are in a neutral position with your pelvis; that is, you should feel as though your pelvis is neither tilting forward or back within the hip girdle.

This requires your mindful, happy-fied engagement of your low back and abdominal wall.

Now, relax and feel the breath comfortably moving up into the ribs rather than down in the belly. Feel the strength of this, and notice how simply breathing and sitting can help you engage your core if you allow for it. There is no need for 8-minute abs when you can engage your core any time you are feelin’ the happy vibe!

You can do this lengthening of the tailbone and engaging the core just sitting, or standing, walking, running, jumping, jogging, working at a computer, watching television — whatever you are doing — assuming you are upright, you can work to strengthen your core muscles. So what exactly isn’t a core exercise? Nada!

And it sure is a big part of happyfication. The lighter and stronger you are in the middle, the happier you are all over.

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