“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.” ― Rumi,
As students of yoga, we eventually learn how to connect with our breathing. We come to understand that the simple act of inhalation and exhalation can be enhanced when our posture is aligned. As we physically straighten, we open ourselves up to experience a fuller range of movement in the upper chest/back, ribcage and abdominal areas.
In an attempt to expand our vessels for the breath, here are three key strategies:
#1 Counteract “Techno – Hump”
Using computers and cell phones can adversely affect our breathing function. The head forward position can lead to a spinal curvature disorder called kyphosis which compresses the movement of air by collapsing the chest.
Here is a short posture sequence for reducing upper back tension and straightening the body:
Table to Balasana with arms outstretched
Virabhadrasana I (lift and lower “cactus” arms)
Salabasana Arm Positions: 1.) overhead 2.) ”cactus” 3.) overhead 4.) behind back
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (roll up onto shoulders/arms overhead, then lower)
#2 Back bends are capable of generating many openings.
In the front body, the heart center, lungs and abdominal area all benefit from the practice of back bending. When our front body opens, we are able to pump blood and nutrients more effectively through the body, expand our lung capacity and unblock our digestive system.
Here is a wonderful restorative backbend to marinate in and open the front body:
Create a small roll with a blanket to place underneath the body just at or below the shoulder blades. Lie supine on the roll (your arms should stretch out just above roll). While it may be slightly uncomfortable at first, your body should accept the opening. If it is too intense, try bending your knees or decreasing the height of the roll. Stay in the pose for 3-5 minutes.
#3 The belly should be permitted to lift and expand with the inhalations.
Many of us think that a flat, rigid belly is a healthy belly. However, in The Breathing Book, Donna Farhi explains how holding or sucking the belly inward can be harmful: “the organs in the abdominals are cut off from circulation due to constant abdominal contraction. This can negatively impact digestion, assimilation, and elimination (think digestive disorders).” When the belly learns to move, lifting with the inhalation and contracting with the exhalation, digestion not only improves but the act of breathing is enriched.
Get your belly moving with this simple breathing technique:
Begin by lying on your back with knees bent.
On an exhalation, gently contract your abdominal muscles, bringing your navel in the direction of your spine.
As you inhale, with a little or no muscular effort, let your abdomen gently lift.
Breathe this way for a minute or so.
When your body unlocks its ability to expand and contract fluidly, your lung capacity swells and oxygen levels increase to improve every other system that is affected by your body’s breathing machine.