Traditionally in Yoga there is always a focus on the breath. Working with the breath in our asana practice not only gives us a reference point for how we are moving through our practice (holding, forcing, relaxed, smooth, jittery, etc), a focus point for a busy mind to keep coming back to, a way of releasing tension & a way of moving prana around the body, it anatomically makes sense. When we work with the breath in forward & back bends there are two components that really bring this last point alive.
The first is that during inhalation the lower back muscles & the muscles around the tailbone contract & as we exhale they relax– its subtle but it’s there.
Try it for yourself- come into your seat, find balance between your two sit bones. Inhale into your belly & as you exhale see if you can notice a subtle relaxing of the muscles in the lower back & around the tailbone. Then as you inhale feel them slightly contract. I find it can be easier to feel this exercise as you exhale so start there.
With this in mind it makes sense then if we want to fold forward we would do so on the exhalation when these muscles are relaxing & we would extend & lift on the inhalation when the muscles are contracting.
Try it in a forward fold- As you inhale extend the spine, lifting the back-body. As you exhale move into your fold- use your entire exhalation to move into the pose. Once you are in the posture, as far as feels right for you today, continue to work with the breath here. Inhale extend the spine & exhale soften, release tension & let go, moving into the pose maybe a little more deeply. Stay here for several breaths. Inhale to come up.
The same principles apply for back bends. As we inhale the muscles contract so we can work with the muscles & arch back, opening up & moving into, or deeper into the pose. As we exhale the muscles release, we pause in, or release from the pose.
The second point is to do with the expansion in the ribs on inhalation & deflation on exhalation. Obvious maybe but we can use this to assist us in our asana practice. As we inhale & the lungs expand like a balloon we naturally lift so this is a great time to move into backbends. For example if we are in cobra as we inhale the chest naturally lifts higher with the expansion in the lungs, moving us deeper into out backbend. Where as when working with this fullness in forward bends we would extend/lengthen on the inhalation & wait for the exhalation to move into our fold. We can work with the space the exhalation creates for us rather than trying to squash the lungs into the forward bend.
Try it in cobra- Inhale up into your cobra. Pause here on the exhalation. Then as you inhale notice that your torso naturally lifts higher with the breath & the fullness of your lungs. Try to hold the new height you have created with your back muscles as you exhale. Keep working this pattern for as long as you are in the pose. Exhale to come down & push back into child’s pose.
Working with the breath brings new depth & aliveness to the postures. It also gives us a helping hand 😊 As always any questions or comments let me know- Ruth 🙏🌸