Breath for Health – A Mindful Way to Restore Your Natural Breathing Cycle


Breath for Health – A Mindful Way to Restore Your Natural Breathing Cycle

by Michael D Hutchinson /

Hips above Heart

If you see pictures of Yogis and their students either standing on their heads or in other upside-down poses, this is only one piece of the massive jigsaw puzzle which is Yoga. And I venture that very few people fully understand why these inversions are done, even if they practice inversions themselves, for the sake of their calming effect. The simple question to ask yourself is, when in everyday life do you even slightly invert the body, that is take your hips above your heart, your heart above your head? Even if you are somewhat ‘bendy’, this might only happen for a moment, when you stoop to pick something up off the floor. 

If you do stay, even for a short while, with your hips just a short distance above your heart, you are doing something out of the ordinary. You are going to feel some unusual effects. You don’t need to start with a headstand!

Appreciate Your Diaphragm

As soon as you assume an even slightly inverted position, you will notice an effect on your breath. 

EXERCISE 5.1: Supported mild elevation. If you want a very easy way to begin, prepare yourself to rest on your back with about 4 inches or 10 cm of support under your hips and your lower legs and feet supported on the seat of a chair. A thinner support under the head may benefit your neck. If you have yoga blocks, two full thickness ones (or a thick and two thin) under your hips will do, if not, you can improvise with some large, thick books and a thin cushion on top.

In this position, you’ll be returning to the abdominal breathing you learnt at the end of Chapter 1. However, now you’ll find that more effort is need to lift your breath in from your heart towards your hips. Also, you’ll need to learn how to let your breath out slowly, since there’s now more of a positive drive behind it.

Let’s look at what’s actually doing that work for you and your breath. As described at the end of Chapter 1, dividing the body into upper and lower halves, a sheet of muscle attaches to the lower edges of your ribs and inserts onto the inside of your lower spine. This is your respiratory diaphragm. We saw earlier that its job is to contract and flatten towards your abdomen when your breath comes in, assisted by the expansion of your lower ribs. This creates more space in the upper body – for air – while (in standing or sitting) pushing down on the lower organs.

When you have the hips above the heart, your diaphragm has to work harder, since more of the weight of the abdominal organs rests on it, when compared to lying flat. Consider, if you can feel an effect even with your hips just four inches (10 cm) above your heart, what’s a headstand going to feel like? In a follow-up to this book, I will describe how there’s no point at all in attempting a headstand unless and until you can breathe deeply once you’re there. 

Moving the Piston

EXERCISE 5.2: Lying, passive slight inversion: Assume the same comfortable supported lying position as in 5.1, legs above the hips, hips above the heart. Rest your hands on your belly. Inhale slowly feeling your diaphragm push your abdomen up and away to create more space for your lungs. Let your breath turn around smoothly and watch as just as smoothly and progressively your diaphragm slowly relaxes to allow your breath to flow smoothy. Repeat this exercise for up to 10 more breaths, feeling that there’s something like a piston in your body, smoothly working your breath in and easing it back out again.

Figure 27. Piston action of the diaphragm (darker shaded are inside the ribs) to lift the abdominal wall in slightly raised lying.

If you do wish to go on to deeper, more demanding inversions, this will be the foundation of your practice. However, while we’re here at this first easy stage, let’s look at the initial benefits:

  • By repeated practice, for up to 12 breaths at a time in this position, you will be strengthening your diaphragm to work in its optimal mode.
  • You will be giving your heart a chance to feel some assistance, since every time you breathe in extra blood will be returned to the heart, due to the pressure on the abdominal organs from the diaphragm. 
  • Your diaphragm will be learning to work smoothly, despite the slight inversion, both on inhale and exhale.
  • Yoga inversions can have a calming effect, which you may feel even in this initial position. 

As always, please, please allow your breath to work gently and smoothly. As soon as we try to force or hurry the breath to do something, there is the danger of creating a resistance, or of causing ill-effects. This patient manner of daily practice will do more to strengthen your diaphragm than even high-intensity athletics. Apparently, such activities can fatigue the diaphragm, resulting in breathlessness, without improving its strength (Amman, 2012).

Letting-go Below

Another key beneficial effect of inverting the body, even a little, is the release that can be experienced in the abdominal area. This sort of release is especially valuable for anyone with a more sedentary lifestyle, in which the abdominal organs see very little relative movement or shift of weight.

In order to complete the previous two exercises, you will have used your back and thigh muscles to lift your hips off your mat to place a block or cushion underneath. If you found that comfortable, we can make this into an exercise in itself. 

EXERCISE 5.3: Lying, active semi-inversion: You will need to start in a lying position with your feet drawn up close to you so the knees are raised. Both feet and knees need to be about hip-width apart. Relax your arms along by your sides, palms down.

Important, REMOVE any support from under your head unless (exceptionally) your teacher says this is OK. Very importantly, face directly upwards throughout the exercise – NEVER turn your head to look to one side, while your hips are raised. Doing so could strain your neck. 

Take a breath or two to relax into your initial resting position. When your breath next wants to come in, put some weight into your feet and feel your hips lift off the mat. Complete your in-breath with your hips raised, start to breathe out and, on your out-breath, lower your hips smoothly. Practice this lift five more times, so long as it’s comfortable. NEVER continue if there is pain or anything more than the mild discomfort that can arise from trying something unfamiliar.

Rest, then as you next breathe in lift your feet off the mat and bring your hands to your knees and your knees to your hands. Breathe out and then relax, breathing freely, letting your body soften. Breathe out and relax, then breathe freely, letting your body soften. It’s OK now to pop a thin cushion under your head.

Breath for Health by Michael D Hutchinson is available from or from wherever books are sold.


Source link

Share this article

Recent posts

Popular categories


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recent comments

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons