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Monthly Archives: June 2012

A Different Way to Breathe

Viniyoga teachers, myself included, explain to their students that one of the primary things differentiating Viniyoga from other types of yoga is an emphasis on the breath. But, what does that mean? Other yoga teachers remind their students to breathe. What’s so different about the Viniyoga approach?

In this approach, the breath initiates all movement and is coordinated with the pace of the movement in each asana (posture). For example, backbends are typically initiated on inhale while forward bends are initiated on exhale because inhaling is more expansive while exhaling is more contracting. Breathing is done through the nose as the chest lifts and expands on inhale and the belly contracts on exhale. Visualize the inhale moving down the front of the body as the chest, rib cage and belly expand and the exhale moving up the front of the body as the belly, rib cage and chest contract – a top down, bottom up approach to the breath. By the way, when you begin the inhale, retain or keep a slight contraction in the belly – throughout the inhale.

Coordinate the length of the breath with the pace of your movement during the asana – another key differentiator. To understand what that means, come to a standing position with arms by your sides. As you inhale to a count of 4 to 6 seconds, raise your arms over your head toward the ceiling and as you exhale to a count of 4 to 6 seconds, lower them down to your sides. If you run out of breath before your arms are over your head or back down to your sides, you will need to speed up the pace of the movement to match the length of your breath. You want a little breath remaining at the end of the inhale and exhale so that it doesn’t feel forced. Over time, your breath will lengthen and your movements slow to match the longer breath.

In Viniyoga, breath is paramount. It initiates each movement into the asana (on either inhale or exhale) and is consciously coordinated with the pace of movement during the asana. This approach requires and cultivates mental focus.

Got a backache? Try Forward Bends

For such a simple posture, the standing forward bend can produce amazing results. It’s one of the first postures I learned years ago when I started taking yoga classes. At the time, I had low back pain that began to disappear as I benefited from the cumulative effects of practice – especially the standing forward bend.

In my yoga tradition, the primary purpose of this posture, and all forward bends, is to stretch the low back.

Here’s the process:

To do it, stand with feet about hip-bone distance apart, arms by your sides, shoulders relaxed. Take an inhale and, as you exhale, begin to bend forward rounding your low back until you are in a comfortable forward bend, chin slightly tucked. To keep things simple, let your hands slide down the sides of your legs as you bend forward. A couple of keys to this posture are (1) contract your abdomen as you exhale and bend forward and (2) bend your knees to feel more of a stretch in the low back/sacrum than hamstrings.

When exhaling into the forward bend take care not to hinge from the hips with straight legs or to “swan dive” into the forward bend. Over time, doing so can place excessive strain onthe hips and back. Always keep soft knees.

To come up from the forward bend, as you inhale, engage your back muscles and return to standing. Keep a slight abdominal contraction as you return to standing to protect your low back. Your hands slide back up the sides of your legs, shoulders relaxed. Keep your back relatively flat and your head neutral with chin slightly tucked. Take care not to hyperextend the neck.

Repeat the movement 6 times. Repeating the movement several times is key because it causes the muscles to contract and release which results in the muscles stretching.

This process is what helped my back.

Be sure to take it easy and if you ever feel pain, stop immediately.




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