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Breathing and Movement

May 9, 2011

My friend, as a newcomer  to yoga, asked about moving to the breath.  And it certainly is something that is simultaneously completely intuitive, and completely foreign.  It’s intuitive in that our bodies breathe and move all the time in sync without our realizing it.  Notice next time you’re walking when you take your inhales and when you take your exhales.  Notice what you’re doing when your breath is held.  Our bodies naturally want to move or not move at certain points in our “breath cycle.”

This is a really cool video about the respiratory cycle.  Watch the whole thing — it shows what your diaphragm does to help you breathe, how your digestive organs are affected, and even how your back muscles and intercostal muscles (ie, the muscles between your ribs) all affect your breathing.  Notice that there is a slight pause at the “top” of the breath, when the lungs are full, and at the “bottom,” when the lungs are breathing out.

[from Interact Medical]

I’m just starting to think about and understand the breath as something other than just bringing oxygen to my blood.  I’m starting to grasp its more subtle nuances — the way just breathing can affect your entire body, your emotions, your mood …. and it’s all physiological.  It’s pretty cool science.  I hope one day to experience and understand the full “power” of the breath through deeper meditation, but all in good time.

Marsha Wenig sums up the yoga-breath-movement pretty well (I’m reading Yoga Kids for my training this weekend), so I’ll quote her to start that part of the discussion: “Generally, we expand or move on an inhalation, and contract or surrender on an exhalation.”  So, when we sweep our arms upward at the start of a sun salutation, we inhale — it’s a movement, it’s an expansion of ourselves; when we fold into forward-bend, we exhale — our entire body contracts and we surrender ourselves to the pose.  My aunt, a fellow yogi, described it as moving away from the earth on an inhale, and toward it on an exhale.

These generalizations do not work for every pose or every person.  I find sometimes that I need to take an extra breath in certain poses.  Worse, sometimes I’ll breathe shallowly, and will need to “realign” my breath to my practice.  In these cases, I will try to make small adjustments in time with my breath.  So — if I did a rowdy sun salutation and a difficult pose ending in Warrior, and my breath got wonky somewhere in there, I’ll focus on drawing my shoulder-blades down my back.  I’ll inhale and bring both of my arms up, and exhale while I bring them down, focusing my attention on my shoulder-blades.  This realigns my breath to my practice and puts me “back in the game,” as it were.

Here are some other great resources for the breath-movement discussion.  Join in!

Jen Schumacher Blog

Yoga Journal Article

Oprah Segment [laugh all you want, it’s pretty good!! a small sequence to help get the “hang” of it]

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Franzi permalink
    May 10, 2011 1:02 am

    I am so thankful for you trying to break this down a bit more. I needed to read the post while I had breakfast 😉 I love the video you posted.
    I never realized breathing to have such an impact on my body. Also I am realizing that following my breath will be more “work”. I am sure that taking it one step at a time is just the right thing to do. If I can’t feel and move with my breath the hole yoga experience wont get me where it is supposed to.

    I also watched the video on oprah btw LOVE Oprah 🙂 She is a great lady! Anyway I liked that sequence too although I will have to practice.

    Concluding I must say that I think more and more that breathing is so much more. Being in synch with my breath is the goal for my next few weeks. I will check out other resources as well 🙂
    Thank you dear!

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