DAY 26: Tourniquet Effect

Author: thedancingj /

Last month I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned.  The dental hygienist found that my gums were a little swollen (FYI, did you know that you are supposed to brush your gums, not just your teeth?) and gave me a fun little "gum stimulator" to use on them.  It's basically just a rubber tip that push flat against your gums, then release.  When she was showing me how to use it, she also explained the science of it.  She said, "You just press this into your gums to cut off the blood flow, and then when you release it, all the fresh oxygenated blood rushes back in and heals the tissue..."

Yes, "fresh oxygenated blood"!  No kidding.  She had to take her hand back out of my mouth because I cracked up laughing.  I quickly recovered myself and told her, "Oh, I know exactly what you are talking about," and told her why that phrase was so familiar to me.

Some teachers talk about this more often than others, but the Bikram series is all about reducing circulation to different parts of your body and then letting the highly oxygenated blood rush back in.  That's precisely where so much of the healing comes from.  First, we increase the amount of oxygen in the blood by heating up the body and doing pranayama breathing.  Then we create compression and extension in virtually every part of the body, so that this super circulation can do its work most effectively.

I like the water shortage analogy that Bikram uses to explain this concept.  He says, let's imagine that one day California has a really huge water shortage crisis...

"Los Angeles has many cities within it, and if the water department sends them all water at the same time, all anyone gets is a trickle.  So the city says, "Every half hour we will supply water to each city in turn.  At 6 a.m. we will have water only in the city of Beverly Hills.  At 6:30 it will stop and the water will go to Culver City."  And so on.  This way, everyone gets more than a trickle and - ahh - they can take a nice shower.  At the appointed time, everyone gets enough water pressure.  It's all about extension and compression.  This is happening in every phase of yoga, all the time.  Every time you bend to the right, you are compressing or closing that side while opening up the left side.  And vice versa.  The moment you release the posture, blood is transported from one side to the other.  In this way you sequentially improve each part of the whole human body."
- From Bikram Yoga (also known as "the orange book"), pg 85-86

There's a longer explanation in the book (which is definitely worth a read), but that's the basic idea.

It's interesting to think about the postures in terms of extension and compression.  Take standing bow pulling pose, for example.  The point of the posture isn't to look like a pretty ballerina (even though it sure is nice when you feel that way).  Besides raising your heart rate and developing your balance and concentration, it's also the only posture where you compress one half of your body while extending the other half.  One the first side, the whole right side of your body is experiencing compression while the left side extends.  Ta da!!  Medical benefits.

I always "bought" this idea, because it's very logical and it definitely seems to work, but I wasn't sure how well it would actually stand up to Western scientific scrutiny.  But as it turns out, this is all stuff that they teach you about in dental hygienist school!!  So it must be legit.  Who knew?


The Missus said...

As I have learned in the past week... You don't diss what the dentist says. I believe everything they tell me.

bikramyogachick said...

***rubbing hands together in glee*** I LOVE it when you talk shop! This is great! There are times when I get into standing bow and really focus on the backbend and the kicking and the extended arm and sometimes I hit it just right to where I almost actually feel a bit numb and tingly on one side. Perhaps this is the compression? I always freak out and fall out! Have you ever felt that in bow?

thedancingj said...

BYC, you crack me up. You're at LEAST as much of a nerd as I am!!! You should read or re-read that orange book. I was going through the section on the science of the yoga, and I couldn't BELIEVE how much information was packed into 10 pages!

That's never happened to me in bow, but your explanation sounds plausible... :-)

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