In response to questions after my new Breath Focus Yoga class, I’d like to share a little more info than time permits in class. There’s a workshop coming but this post will get you thinking about, understanding and practicing the basics in the meantime.
Generally we are unconscious of our breathing, it’s an automatic process thankfully. In Asana practice however, finding the natural link between breath and body can make a huge difference to our practice. For that we need the mind and right there, union is born. Let’s break it down without the cliche.
What happens in the body when we breathe
Simplistically, lets look at the movement of the rib cage (bone) and the diaphragm (muscle). The two are obviously connected but since we can feel and see the rib cage easily, we’ll start there.
On inhale, the rib cage expands outwards and upwards. As a result there is also a slight lengthening of the spine. On inhale, the diaphragm moves down, creating a vacuum which draws breath into the lungs. The downward movement compresses the abdominal organs and pushes the abdomen out.
When the muscles responsible for inhale relax, the opposite happens. We exhale and the rib cage sinks as the diaphragm moves upward.
Why joining Breath with Movement Helps
By consciously linking our breath with movement, we can advance our practice in a number of ways, including:
- Realising our true physical capacity and our limitations
- Awareness of our mental focus – are we truly practicing Yoga or just along for the ride?
- Understanding the asana itself and how breath can affect the depth of asana
By linking breath we make our practice more subtle, yet powerful. Think of it as an exercise within an exercise requiring more concentration; when we concentrate on a task intently, we usually become proficient and understand the action rather than just coping it.
Lets look at the natural relationship between breathing and movement:
Whenever we raise our arms overhead, we inhale and when we lower them, we exhale. Generally when our limbs move away from the body we inhale; when they move toward the body, we exhale.
When we squeeze the body, pressure forces the breath out. We therefore exhale in all forward bending postures.
We inhale when practicing back arches or backward bends.
With any torsional or twisting movement of the body we exhale; when the body untwists, we inhale.
These rules are very simple – basically, when we contract the body, we exhale; when we expand the body, we inhale.
How to Practice the Natural Link
Now let’s bring the mind into union. To keep the mind focussed we can employ three simple techniques.
Feeling the breath throughout inhalation and exhalation helps improve the quality of our breath.
To give us the feeling of uniformity and smoothness when we breath, we impose a restriction on the throat which produces a sound. It is if we had a valve in the throat and we parially closed it to control the breath. We measure the control by the sound. This sound is produced uniformly during both inhalation and exhalation, allowing us to hear, as well as feel, the breath as we work toward deeper and longer cycles. T.K.V Desikachar
We call this technique Ujjayi and it is best learnt from a Yoga teacher rather than a blog post!
Introduce a pause at the end of you inhalation and a pause at the end of your exhalation. Try this simple exercise:
- Inhale for a count of six while raising your arms over your head.
- Pause for a count of two.
- Exhale for a count of six while lowering your arms to your side.
- Pause for a count of two.
- Repeat up to six times noticing the stillness within the pause.
Allow every movement to be led or initiated by the breath. Start the inhale just before you move then finish the movement just before you finish the inhale. Practice the same in reverse; start the exhale just before you start the movement then finish the movement just before you finish the exhale.
Practice techniques above with a simple movement like tadasana, then apply to more advanced asana. Notice how your mind stays linked to your breath and movement when you concentrate and how easy it drops away when you don’t.
Yoga Classes & Yoga Therapy Consultations here!
If you would like to explore the above rules and techniques in a yoga class, please come along to one of my Breath Focus Yoga classes. Alternatively, contact me for a Yoga Therapy Consultation and I will design an appropriate, personalised daily yoga practices to suit you!
It doesn’t matter how beautifully we do a posture or how flexible our bodies are, if we do not have the unification of the body, the breath, and the mind, it is difficult to say that our practice falls within the definition of yoga. After all, what is yoga? It is something we experience inside, within our whole being. It is not an external experience. T.K.V Desikachar