Monthly Archives: September 2012
Recently, I was invited onto the Board of Yoga Teachers of Colorado (YTOC) and am excited about taking a more active role in this terrific organization.
YTOC was founded in 1982 and has a mission of deepening the knowledge of yoga and fostering an environment for sharing within the yoga community. You don’t need to be a teacher to join as yoga enthusiasts are welcome as well.
Check it out … www.ytoc.org
Asanas (postures) are well known for their ability to reverse our sedentary, slumped over a computer lifestyles. But, what is less well known is the critical role the breath plays in making that happen. In fact, selecting the appropriate breathing method is what makes the posture truly effective.
The health of the spine, of course, has a big impact on posture. Attention to the spine is fundamental to practicing postures and, in the Viniyoga tradition, we become aware of the spine through the breath.
Viniyoga teaches a breathing method with a directional flow called chest to belly that improves posture. Just to be sure we’re on the same page, directional flow does not refer to the movement of air. Air always goes into the lungs. Directional flow refers to control of the respiratory muscles and movement of awareness of the breath.
In chest to belly breathing, the inhale originates through the nose and travels down to the belly. As you inhale, visualize the breath moving down the front of your body as you lift the sternum, and gradually expand the chest, rib cage, solar plexus and belly. As you inhale, observe the spine expand and extend because the spine “goes up” in this type breathing.
In this breathing method, the exhale originates with the belly contracting. Pull the pubic bone toward the navel as you contract the abdomen and visualize the breath gradually moving back up the front of the body.
To summarize, the directional flow of the breath changes the movement of the spine and it is the extension of the spine found in chest to belly breathing that reverses what happens in everyday life. It is used in asana practice as well as pranayama.
In the Viniyoga tradition primary emphasis is placed on the breath. To give a few examples, movement into asanas originates with the breath; movement is paced to match the length of the breath; and breath is adapted for its energetic effects in both asanas and pranayama.
One of the techniques used to help manage the breath in both asana and pranayama practice is ujjayi or throat valving. Using ujjayi controls the flow of the breath by controlling the length and pace. Initiate this technique by partially contracting the glottis, i.e. the vocal cords and the space between them.
Trying to explain the feeling is challenging but it’s like the throat sensation felt when fogging a mirror. Hold your hand up to your mouth and imitate fogging a mirror and you’ll feel a slight vibration which is the glottis contracting. That’s the feeling you get with ujjayi breathing.
Ujjayi breath is used on inhale and exhale, but if you’re not familiar with this technique, start with the exhale. As you exhale through your nose, contract your belly and notice if you feel a slight vibration in your throat. Continue experimenting with this technique on exhale and, eventually, you will use it for inhale as well. It just seems to happen naturally.
All asana practices should use the ujjayi breath and many pranayama practices incorporate it as well. Please remember: make your breath smooth and steady as you do your yoga practice. Never, ever force the breath.
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