Now that we have some sense of ujjayi breathing and established a preliminary relationship between breath and movement let’s move on to more refined breathing. At this point I feel a need to clarify that these posts are not offered as a substitute for yoga instruction – this should be done with a teacher. If I were teaching Yoga – at this point I would not move forward to locational breathing – instead I would focus on more practice of breath and movement. My intentions here are to share knowledge of yoga around themes that are close to my heart. This series focuses on breathing – maybe others will be dedicated to asana. So please handle this information with care. If you really want to learn yoga find a teacher.
Locational breathing is rather simple to explain – but requires attentive practice to actually perform. It is about assigning a location (hence locational) focus for each part of the breath: the inhale is associated with the chest and the exhale with the abdomen. Lets explore this in detail.
We will start with the exhale. Please assume the same position we have been using so far – lying on the back & feet on the floor. I invite you to place your arms on your torso instead of on the floor – place one arm on your chest and the other on your abdomen. The hands are there to inform you. Start by paying attention to your natural breathing and then gradually move into ujjayi breath. Then bring your attention to your abdomen. If you’ve placed your hand on it – then the movement of the hand will reflect the movement of the abdomen. There is a good chance that it is moving on both the inhale and exhale. Please focus your attention on the exhale.
The exhale can be “uninvolved” since it is both a natural process and when lying on the back it is aided by gravity. The idea here is to make it an “involved” activity – something that you perform. You can use the muscles of your abdomen (and there are quite a few) to “do” the exhale – so you are applying muscular control that is affecting the exhale – instead of the natural downwards pull. There is a degree of awareness to it. Once you have brought your attention to it – execute 8 more ujjayi breaths – focusing on the exhale. That is a locational exhale – it is located in the area of the abdomen. After 8 breaths relax the breath and return to natural breathing. When your breath is relaxed – proceed to the next step.
The inhale requires a bit more attention and conscious effort. As you breath naturally – in which of your hands can you feel movement caused by your inhale? For most people this will also be in the area of the abdomen – it inflates on the inhale and then deflates on the exhale. This part of the practice is about bringing the inhale into the chest area. Your lungs are located in the chest – they are surrounded and protected by your ribs – which form a pretty tough structure. The ribs are covered by muscles that run in a diagonal weaving patterns – these muscles can be used to expand the chest. I used to think that the chest is expanded by the expansion of the lungs – until I learned it’s the other way around. Each lung sits in a cavity that is a complete vacum – which causes the lung to stretch out and fill the cavity. When the chest expands – via the muscles covering the ribs – the lung cavity expands and with it the lungs inside.
The things is that most people are not acquianted with these muscles. If I want to move a finger – my mind knows what to do – and signals are sent to relevant muscles. When I learned locational breathing my mind was not yet able to translate my command to expand the chest and communicate with relevant muscles. It didn’t need to – because breathing is largely an automated process. So we are using a simple mechanism to train the mind – the hand that is placed on the chest provides the mind with feedback “ahhh… yes, this is what causes the chest to expand” until eventually it learns and the hand is no longer needed.
So lets practice. First pay attention to your natural breathing, then introduce ujjayi and then reinstate locational exhale – exhaling using the abdominal muscles. Once that is stabilized and sustainable – shift your attention to your chest and the inhale. Watch the hands – where is the inhale taking place? Try bringing the inhale into the chest – remember effort is required – physical effort to operate the muscles (remember this can be the first time that the muscles are being called to action like this) and mindful effort – focus. Keep breathing until you either get a sense of an expanding chest on the inhale or until you feel that the effort is too much – whichever comes first – then stop – and relax the breath.
Keep practicing you will eventually get it. Once you do – try going for a series of 8 breaths with full locational breathing – the exhale located in the abdominal area, the inhale located in the chest area. Pay close attention to your hands as they will be telling you what is actually happening. You may think you are doing locational breathing (the mind thinks rather highly of itself) – but your hands will be telling you what is really happening. Practice with patience, care and passion.
Next up: locational breathing and movement.