Now that we have a basic Ujjayi breath to work with – let’s try to make a simple connection with movement. We are going to be using a very simple exercise to demonstrate this. The simplicity of the exercise is leaves space to explore the subtle relationship between breath and movement – I invite you to embrace this simplicity and spend some time with it before moving on to more challenging asana (exercises). I will also be revisiting this simple exercise as we elaborate further on the qualities of ujjayi breathing.
To demonstrate the exercise I would like to introduce stick figures. These are drawings which can be used to describe and document a practice. The first figure is the posture I described previously of lying down on the back with both feet standing.
The exercise we will be using is raising the arms up through the vertical position and then continuing the movement so that the arms rest on the floor behind the head. I will deviate shortly from the main topic of this post to articulate on the position of the hands – as this can be a wonderful opportunity to make a conscious choice between a relevant practice and an irrelevant (and costly to uproot) habit.
When your hands are on the floor behind the head – make sure that your arms are also completely touching the floor. This includes 10 finger nails (trust me – count them on the floor!), the two elbows and the two backs of the hand. There is a good chance this will require that you release your shoulders and that your arms will not be straight. I invite you to get acquianted with this position – it is where your arms should go whenever you bring them behind/above your head. This is a good position to practice this because the floor provides you with physical sensory feedback. When you do this same movement standing the floor will not be there for you (and there is a good chance that your ego will be – and it tends to go for straight and stretched arms). This is a great opportunity to pick up a good habit.
So… let’s bring the breathing and movement to work together. As you inhale raise your arms above your head, as you exhale bring them back alongside the body. This sounds simple enough – but please pay close attention to the coordination. We are aspiring to create a harmonious movement – the breathing and the motion should start together and end together: (1) As you begin to inhale being moving your arms – the pace of movement should be paced so that as your arms (and fingernails and backs of the hands and elbows) touch the floor the inhale is completed then (2) as you begin to exhale your arms begin the journey back and are gently placed alongside the body as the exhale is completed.
We are now beginning to form a layering pattern of exercise. The first layer was the breathing with all the qualities of Ujjayi we previously practiced. On to this we add an additional layer – movement of the arms. We have many more layers to build so its a good idea to get used to this. It means that though we now have new focus of attention (movement) we must not neglect the previously established layers – the breathing. Ujjayi should still be a quality breath (inhale, exhale, steady sound, smooth transitions…), the movement of the arms should be fluent and steady – and the two should be coordinated with grace. So actually there are quite a few details involved in what is seemingly a simple practice!
Coming next: locational breathing