Breathing And Forward Bending

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Breathing in forward bending postures will be experienced differently by those who are relatively stiff than by those who are stronger and more flexible. Advanced students have many options, but those who are inflexible in the hip joints have to tense the abdominal muscles just to maintain the posture, and this creates many repercussions.

breathing in the posterior stretch

In the posterior stretch for beginners, the abdominal organs are compressed by the forward bend, and if you are holding lightly onto your thighs, legs, or ankles with your elbows slightly flexed, each inhalation will lilt your torso as the dome of the diaphragm descends. Each exhalation then lowers your torso back forward and down.

If you are an intermediate student and are committed earnestly to the posture, you will probably be holding tightly onto the lower extremities with your hands to maintain a deep forward stretch that is close to your limits, and under those circumstances it is harder for the diaphragm to lift you up during inhalation. There is increased tension during inhalation as the diaphragm presses down against the abdominal organs and a release of that tension during exhalation, but you are stid not in the full posterior stretch, and you are still at the mercy of a pneumatic system that tends to lift you up and down. Under those conditions this bent-forward posture with incomplete hip flexion can never be perfectly stable or satisfying.

Finally, if you are able to complete the posture by flattening your torso down against your thighs and holding it firmly in place with your upper extremities, you will have yet a third experience. The fixed and flattened torso prevents the posture from lifting and lowering during inhalation and ^halation, and the resulting sense of stability and silence is the reward for your efforts.

As soon as you are coming close to this third experience, you can use breathing to increase your capacity. Come into the forward bend with the


knees extended. Relax the shoulders and arms, and rest the hands on r ,e ankles or leet. Breathe in and out normally, and confirm that inhalatioi is lilting you up and creating more tension in the trunk. Now, in one e. ^y sequence, breathe out to your full capacity <as in agni sera), and at the rl of exhalation pull your torso forward with the rectus femoris, iliacus, ps< is, and rectus abdominis muscles. Then grip a lower site firmly and hold ie posture, inhaling and exhaling several times until your body has adju.- d to the new stretch. You are not pulling yourself into position with the U| .er extremities. Instead, you are using the hands only to hold yourself a position established by the muscles of the torso and the proximal miii les of the lower extremities. Repeat this sequence several times. If you irt with reasonably good hip flexibility, you will be amazed at how much ou can draw yourself forward.

No matter what your flexibility, if you pull yourself firmly enough ir o a forward bend with your hands so that your breathing cannot lift you ( of the posture, you will notice that tension from inhalations, especially im deep inhalations, spreads throughout the body and is redirected nto stretching the calf muscles, hamstrings, and the deep back muscles, as ell as joints and muscles throughout the upper extremities. During exhal ion the diaphragm permits a release that lulls the stretched muscles nto submission. Hatha yoga teachers are speaking literally when they tel ou to let the breath stretch the body.

breathing in the down-facing dog

Breathing in the down-facing dog is different from that observed in a v of the other forward bending postures. Since this pose is semi-inverte' the diaphragm presses the abdominal organs toward the ceiling during 'ach inhalation in addition to drawing air into the lungs, and during ach exhalation the diaphragm eccentrically resists the fall of the abdo' inal organs toward the floor. And finally, the weight of the abdominal 01 ans against the underside of the diaphragm causes you to exhale iore completely. This illustrates a pattern of breathing that we'll see in a iore extreme form in the headstand and shoulderstand.

Since beginners will be forming a relaxed hoop in this posture r I her than a V with a taut abdomen, their bellies will remain relaxed am hey will be breathing abdominally. Respiration simply pooches the abd men out during inhalation and relaxes it during exhalation, so this mi le of breathing has little effect on the posture.

Intermediate and advanced students who do the down-facing dog ll°re elegantly have a different experience. They press enthusiastically in o a" upside-down V concentrating on maintaining the deepest possible In ibar lordosis. The arch in the spine creates a backbending posture superiim

6. FORWARD m:\PINr, POSTl'RF.S 35s on 90-120" of hip flexion, and when these students are at. the same time working consciously with the breath, the result is diaphragm-assisted back-bending (chapter 5). To experience this, come into the posture keeping the lumbar lordosis intact, lifting high up on your toes if that is necessary, and take long, deep inhalations while at the same time committing yourself to coming more completely into the posture—that is, accentuating the acuteness of the angle between the pelvis and the thighs. You will immediately sense that the diaphragm is a powerful influence for assisting this effort.

breathing in the child's pose

This is an easy one. Because the body is folded upon itself in the child's pose, inhalation increases tension throughout the torso, and exhalation decreases it. Both inhalation and exhalation are active. In addition to drawing air into the lungs, inhalation has to press against the abdominal organs, which are incompressible (chapter 3), and that is why you feel a sense of increased tension. Exhalation is also active, or it should be, because you are breathing evenly, and even breathing requires that you not exhale with a whoosh. The point is easily proven if you take a deep inhalation and then suddenly relax your respiration; the air rushes out, and you realize that you normally resist this.

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