A wonderful relationship between directional breathing and movement is revealed in forward bends – especially in seated forward bends. It is not my intention to delve into the expansive realm of seated forward bends at this point. I do want to help you to create an opportunity for effectively experiencing bending. To do so I will indulge in a few points that will hopefully make seated forward bends accessible to you. I invite you to avoid pushing your limits and choose soft variations. If you push your limits in establishing the basic posture, you will create obstacles that will hinder you from experiencing the core of this post – directional beathing and forward bending.
When you have a comfortable seated position. Take a few minutes to practice just the movement of the arms together with directional breathing (the movement is similar to what we did when we introduced the idea of movement and directional breathing, except that now it is in a seated position). Remember – inhale is a downward movement of the breath, exhale is an upward movement of the breath.
We begin the forward bend from the arms raised position – this means that we have just finished inhaling (and raising the arms). Therefor, the forward bend begins on an exhale. The exhale begins in the abdomen – and so does the movement. The first part of the back to bend is therefor the lower back – while the rest of the back and the arms remains stretched straight. Then as the movement of the breath progresses UP the back – so does the movement. When the lower back can no longer bend, movement begins in the mid-back, then the upper back and finally the neck – as the weight of the head pulls it down.
Coming back up is a reverse process – but with one important difference. Going down, you were assisted by gravity, going up you will be moving against it – it will require more effort. We come up on the inhale. The inhale begins in the chest – and so does the movement. First to move are the arms – and when they come up parallel to the head (in your correct arm placement), the head begins joins the movement. Then the upper back begins to straighten. As the inhale moves DOWN the back – so does the movement. Only after the mid-back has straightened, and the breath has filled the chest, movement finally reaches the lower back.
You may want to combine the two movements – raising & lowering of the arms and bending forward into one sequence. This gives the arms and back a chance to rest – maintaining a soft quality of practice. The sequence (demonstrated in the animation below) is 2 breaths long. You can repeat it numerous times.
Bending in this way works the back effectively. It fulfills what my teachers describe as “a little movement in many places, instead of a lot of movement in only a few places”. If practiced effectively it has potential for improving both both flexibility and strength. It is supported by the breath and it develops breathing stamina. The directional breathing together with the directional movement activates the energetic system – opening up even more options and variations of practice.
Two days ago I spent a long day in the city – knowing it would affect my energy. It took me two gentle and patient days to feel that my energy was pulling together again.
During the week before that I found a specific “formula” to begin my days:
- Wake up somewhere between 06:55 and 07:07 (yes, that specific and that consistent), I would get out of bed about 15 or 20 minutes later, after gently letting my eyes adjust to the light and my consciousness to being awake.
- Turn on the electricity in the solar water heater, make a small cup of simple black tea and read for 40 minutes to an hour.
- Play Shakuhachi for 20-30 minutes.
- Asana practice 40-50 minutes
- Pranayama practice 30 minutes
- Meditation 5-20 minutes
- Check emails
Then I would meet the remaining hours of the day with wonderful vitality and clarity.
I did not practice Yoga at all during the two days following the city excursion. Yesterday I tried to play Shakuhachi – but my breathing felt weak and inconsistent. I went to sleep last night feeling that my energy had pulled together.
I expected to be able to resume my morning ritual today. I woke up at 07:19 – slightly off my usual time. I began my rituals. I forgot to turn on the water heater. When I finished reading I wanted to begin a Yoga practice, but felt something holding me back. So I just sat for a few minutes, staring at Berry our parakeet, staring back at me. I thought of playing Shakuhachi, but my body resisted that as well. After a few minutes of waiting (not debating the idea of practicing!) I realized that I still have not arrived. I am close, but not quite there.When I realized and accepted this, my body relaxed and peace came over me.
My Yoga practice is currently in transition from a preserving to an intensifying (Raksana to Siksana) practice. It requires delicate preparation – I need to regulate my life, eating, sleeping and what-ever my mind consumes. If I don’t prepare properly, the practice becomes agitating and disturbing (much like the city).
I have tried numerous time over the past months to call upon my discipline and push myself into practice. It never worked. My discipline currently serves me best when I push myself into softness. Sometimes, not-doing is the best thing to do.
In this articles we will be taking a step that may appear small at first, but without it, it would be difficult to move forward and take the next step. My wish is to bring closer together the ideas of directional breathing & movement.
The explanation about directional breathing focused on the torso – the chest and abdominal area where breathing takes place. Now let’s take a step back and see it in play when looking at the entire body. The following animation is an overlay of the torso movement on a stick-figure of the entire body (the arms have been removed for the sake of clarity, they will soon be reintroduced). The blue dot indicates the focus of movement along the back during the breathing cycle.
You can again see the core idea of directional breathing: (1) inhale begins in the chest and moves down to the diaphragm and then to the abdominal area; (2) exhale begins in the abdominal area and then moves up through the diaphragm and ends in the chest. You may want to revisit the details of this wave movement by re-reading directional-breathing.
Inhale is a top-down movement. Exhale is a bottom-up movement.
Now we will remove the torso, leave the blue dot to remind us where breath-movement is taking place in the spine and introduce a simple movement of the arms. The point of this exercise is simply to stay focused on the directional movement of the breath while performing a simple coordinated physical movement.
You may experience some friction in the mind – there may seem to be a contradiction. When the arms move up the breath moves down, when the arms move down the breath moves up. If you experience this confusion, stop moving the arms. Be still and focus again just on the directional breathing, then when you are ready try again to move the arms.
There is one last exercise you can do when you feel you have made this connection. Try reversing the relationship between breath and movement – raise your arms as you exhale and then lower them as you inhale. How does that feel?