Body of Breath Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 3

Breathing in the Side Waist

40 min - Practice
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Our diaphragm responds very quickly to whatever we are experiencing in our life. In this practice, Zubin guides Juna through a deep and effective sequence designed to create space around the middle of the torso. This allows for freer breathing.
What You'll Need: Sandbag, Square Bolster, Blanket (2)

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Nov 09, 2014
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So, continuing our exploration into the breath and looking at different parts of the body that we can work on to make our breath freer, to make our breath clearer, we're going to be looking at the side body today. So, Junior and I are going to show you some simple asana you can do, simple breathing practices to help open up the side body, bring awareness to the whole diaphragm, which of course is the center, the engine of our breath, let's say. And our diaphragm holds a lot of tension, it's one of our parts of our body that responds very quickly to whatever we're experiencing in our life. So it's a good thing to be able to have a sensation and an understanding of your diaphragm, a relationship with your diaphragm. So we're going to start with you lying on your back, bring your arms, so starting here in constructive rest, always a nice pose to begin your practice with, to take a moment to feel your body, a simple act of feeling our body.

So often in a day we're rushing around, completely forget that we have a body, so allowing yourself to settle, then extending one leg, then the other leg, keeping the legs active, the feet flexed in a reclined tadasana. Then I'm going to ask you to take your arms overhead, extending the arms strongly away from your body, letting the sandbag weigh down on your hands, keeping the palms of your hands open. There's a direct connection between the palms of your hands and your shoulder blades, so if the palms are open but also soft, it begins to allow your shoulders to open and soften as well. But not allowing this to be a completely passive pose, keeping the sense of extension, the arms going one way, the legs pulling quite strongly away from you. And then in the middle of all of that is your belly, so your belly is soft.

You're feeling this extension here through the side body. And this is one of those poses that you may want to stay in for a few minutes. And if you stay in it for longer, keeping a little bit of tension in the arms, a little bit of tension in the legs, but allow that to soften. So you have just this very subtle tone in your legs, tone in your arms, but dialing back the effort as much as you can. And as you do that, you feel a softening in the belly.

How does that feel with your breath? Very easy. So removing your hands from underneath the sandbag, bringing your arms to the side and bending both knees in constructive rest, using this pause, this pose in between the next pose to connect back again with your breath. We're concentrating today on the side body. So in this pose, when we keep coming back to a neutral position, bring your attention to the rim of your rib cage, to your diaphragm.

You might want to place your hands on the top of the ribs. Have two fingers on your ribs and two fingers on the top of your belly. So you get this sense of the connection to your diaphragm. And also the hands wrapping around the side body, so you can feel that sideways expansion. And lastly, feeling the back body, feeling on the inhalation, the back ribs coming into the ground, into the mat, feeling the whole circumference of the diaphragm expand.

Now bring your right ankle to your left knee and drop the legs over to the right, into a twist. Bring this twist throughout the side body, taking your left hand overhead. And if you can, find that rotation through the arm, bringing the fingertips to the ground. And this movement in the arm will help open up the whole back body, from the kidneys wrapping around, opening, finding a length through the side body here. And in this twist, don't force the legs to the ground.

You want to find an extension, the thigh bone moving towards the end of your mat. That opening in the front hip joint is going to be more important than forcing yourself into a twist, causing a point of constriction if you go too deeply into the twist in a part of your spine, in the part of your back. Directing your inhalation into the side body in this twist, the side of the belly, maybe this shoulder. Finding where you feel a bit more constriction, directing your attention there, directing the breath there. So in this twist, where do you feel the constriction?

In the lower ribs. The lower ribs. So for Juna, her waist is probably more open, you can see her hips are open. So her congestion in the lower ribs, that's where you want to bring your attention. So the ribs have all these criss-crossing muscles between each one.

So you want to get a sense of finding a bit of space between each of those ribs. As you do this more, as you get more sensitive to your own body, you begin to be able to feel each rib where the constriction is. So bringing your hand back down, bringing your legs up to vertical and crossing the legs. And as always pausing here, seeing if you feel different sensation left and right side of your ribcage of your diaphragm. As you begin to get a sense of your diaphragm, remember the diaphragm attaches much lower in the back of the body than the front of the body.

So you can feel that circumference getting lower at the back body. Now taking the opposite cross, swinging your legs over to me. And taking the arm overhead. Again making your adjustments and then settling into the pose, noticing the difference you may have felt on the other side. Keeping this action in it too though.

So the arm and the hip are moving in opposite directions. Opening in the side body, directing your inhalation into wherever you may feel the most tightness. Is it the same on this side as your lower ribs that you feel the constriction? On this side I feel more in the middle of my back. Middle of your back.

So try with the rotation of your arm, try and find more of a broadening in the back. You might want to twist a bit less and get a sense of the kidneys wrapping around. Does that give you a little more space in the back? So when you're in these poses, observe, see what you sense and then think what can I do to find a bit more space? What adjustment can I make in my body to create more harmony through the whole body?

Okay, bringing your legs back up to center. And crossing your legs, bringing the arm down. Facing again, feeling the rise and fall of the front ribs. The sideways expansion and expansion of the back body into the mat. So the next pose we're going to do is going to use the bolster, placing the bolster under your hips.

You can do this with a block. The bolster can be more comfortable for most people. Now bringing your right knee into your chest, holding the shin, and extending the left leg long, keeping it above the ground, keeping it a little bit higher, keeping the leg long, and then bringing the heel towards the ground, but keeping the leg straight, keeping the leg engaged. Can you bring it a bit lower? So this creates a great opening in the front of the hip, but also in the waist.

So we're looking at the side body, talking a lot about the ribs, but the small part beneath the ribs and above your pelvis is there's a lot of fascia there that can get very tight and constricted. Do you feel that sense of maybe tightness here, a sense of stretching? And if you can't bring your foot all the way to the floor, you can put a block under it, maybe any kind of prop. But it's more important to keep the leg straight than bring it to the floor. And then you'll probably notice as you're in here for a little bit longer, the leg can begin to come down to the floor, or maybe just drop a little bit more if it makes contact.

Releasing this knee and bringing the other knee to joints, pausing in constructive rest, or more of a supported pose here. And bringing the other leg in, holding the shin, straightening the right leg, keeping the leg a few inches above the ground, keeping it long, and bringing it down towards the floor. So Juna had said previously her left hip had more congestion in it than the right hip. So do you feel that, the different sides in this pose? This side is much easier.

My hip is more open. Breathing, feeling the diaphragm moving. As your body settles and you spend a little time observing this rim of the ribs, feeling the inhalation and exhalation, you really can begin to feel your diaphragm. You can feel this dropping of the diaphragm and the lifting of the diaphragm on the exhalation. You can feel the resistance as your ribs expand, you can feel there's a resistance, there's a circular holding there.

So releasing the leg, pausing with both legs bent for a moment. Then being very mindful in the transition, rolling over to one side, observing this change in your body as you move, and then coming on up to sit. Sitting cross-legged on the mat, finding a vertical alignment of your spine. Juna has quite supple open hips, so she doesn't need to sit on blankets, but if you find your lower back is rounding forwards, sit on one blanket, two blankets, whatever it may be, a cushion, to keep your pelvis with a slightly forward tilt, this anterior tilt. Interlacing your fingers, stretching your arms forwards, feeling this movement initiating between the shoulder blades, this broadening of the shoulder blades as you bring the arms overhead.

And if you feel a lot of constriction here as you bring your arms overhead, maybe this is the limit to where you should be. If your shoulders are getting too tight, if there's like pain in your shoulder, don't take your arms all the way overhead, but for you it seems quite comfortable to take the arms overhead. But as your arms are extending, feel that reach, not from inside the shoulder joint, but from lower in your belly. Bring your awareness to your lower belly, and then get a sense of this extension, coming through the side bodies, starting deep in the pelvis, but coming through the side bodies through the arms, all the way into your palms. And bringing the arms back down, pausing there for a moment, taking your fingers into your armpits, lifting the whole shoulder girdle up.

But as you lift the shoulder girdle up, feel the heaviness of your thighs, I think this whole extension through the side of your torso. Begin to notice if there's more tightness on one side or the other side, is it naturally easier to lift? Do you feel a clearer lift on one side than the other? My right side is more constricted and lifting. So see if you can feel that in your own body, which side may feel a bit tighter.

I feel in my own body, naturally I have this tightening on this side of my body. I often feel, I bring my awareness to my body when I haven't been paying attention, I notice there's this tightening here. So if you're aware of that, you can put a little extra effort. Make sure that effort is coming from a sense of attention and a sense of generosity to your body. You're not trying to force this side that's behaving badly.

You're bringing a kindly attention to it. So releasing the hands and bringing your hands forwards. Start off in a slight sense of a back bend. So your arms are long, the front chest is open, and then sneaking your fingers forwards. So any amount that is right for you is fine.

There's no need to go as far as Juna has gone. If this isn't comfortable for your lower back, if your spine starts, your pelvis feels too tight, your hips feel too tight. Coming up onto your fingertips and getting a sense of lengthening through the side body here. But again, holding your attention in your lower belly. So this movement isn't happening all from the shoulders, it's happening through your entire torso.

And connecting back to the heaviness of the thighs. So the thighs are grounded and you're creating this length and long sensation through your entire torso. Now bring your hands over to the left. Which means extra attention, extra weight on this right thigh as you begin to feel the stretch in this side of the body. Pausing there, seeing what you feel in this side of the body.

And then maybe going a little bit further. Going into the side here, finding the constriction. Seeing you can find a small amount more movement. I can see now here in Juna's ribs, a bit more flow, a bit more openness with the inhalation. Now, coming back to center.

And around to this side. Remembering the heaviness of the left thigh here. So you have your grounding, you have your base from which you are moving. Seeing a difference between the left side and the right side. Bringing your attention to wherever you think it's needed.

And then when you feel your body settling here, you feel a certain sense of expansion. You may want to come a little bit further around. Breathing into that side body, finding the opening and the release. So coming back to center. And coming back up to vertical.

Taking the hands and the thumbs and the armpits again, finding this lift. Letting the neck be soft, the head be loose. Just as if you're lifting your shoulder girdle up through your neck. Does it feel a little more open now in the side? The whole central channel feels more open actually.

Now dropping your hands to the side, taking your right arm out to the side. Maybe you want to put your hand even on the belly, getting a sense of this arm extending all the way from the belly. So it's not just the arm extending, not even simply extending from the middle, the front of your chest, which does give you a sense of openness. But if you can find that connection all the way to the belly, extending the arm wide and then taking it up overhead. Finding that external rotation that you did when you were lying in a twist, getting the sense of the side body wrapping broad as well as getting long, your kidneys wrapping around.

And then from that extension, taking the arm over into a side bend, taking your left hand now to the ground, either the hand or the elbow if that's possible for you. Keeping the grounding of this hip, breathing strongly into that side body, but keeping your sensation that this extension is happening from deep in the belly, coming back to vertical, bring that arm down and now the other side. Taking the arm out to the side first, finding that lengthening from the middle, front of the chest and then tracing that down to your belly. Taking the arm overhead, wrapping the arm around, feeling that broadening of the back of the body as the side body also extends coming over into the side bend onto your hand, onto your elbow. You might want to put a block under your elbow, whatever's right for your body.

And remembering the grounding as you can see your thighs lifting slightly, so encourage that thigh to have weight in it. And inhaling back up to vertical. Keeping the arms drop, once again thumbs in the armpits, lifting the body long. And seeing how that lift may change on the inhalation, feeling on the inhalation you can lift just a little bit more and then notice the slight settling of the torso, the shrinking of the spine as you exhale. And releasing the hands and feeling your breath now bring your attention to this rim of the diaphragm to the front, side, back ribs.

Feeling as much subtle observation as you can in the expansion of the ribs with inhalation. And then the drawing back in of the ribs on the exhalation. So come to kneel in the middle of your mat, extending your right leg out. So we're going to do paragasana. Come onto your heel or if it's easy for you, you can bring the ball of the foot to the ground or you can have the foot face forward so your ankle is flexed like this.

Any of these options are fine, whichever your own flexibility allows you to do. Making sure that the left knee is underneath the hip, so you might want to bring your left knee in very slightly. And raising this arm, extending this arm long, again connecting from the lower belly, finding length through that side. And only when you feel you have found as much length as you can through this whole side body, do you take the side bend. The right arm can come down to your shin, allowing this front hip to move forward.

So there's no need to keep the pelvis in this sort of force neutral position. This hip comes forwards. The underside of the body can bend deeply here, slowly easing yourself deeper and deeper into this pose. Again, taking your time rather than forcing yourself to the limit in one go. How does that feel inside here?

It's like a deep stretch. Deep stretch, it is a deep stretch, right. Going back to vertical, bringing that knee in, and taking the other leg out, and doing the other side. Again, with the position of your foot, with what suits your own body, there is angled like this, or bringing out just on the heel, that may be more comfortable for some people. And if you have the extension through the leg, you can bring the ball of the foot to the ground.

But whichever way you do it, you probably want to do the same foot alignment on both sides. So making sure the knee of the standing leg is underneath your hip, finding, raising the arm, binding length through the arm. See that extra length, and then coming into the side bend. Breathing into the side body, finding that twist, finding the side bend starting right from the root of your belly, making sure this hip rolls forward slightly. So this side looks much easier for you.

I feel it more in my inner leg. In the hamstring now, or the inner thigh. The inner thigh. So inhaling back to vertical, bringing that leg in, and sitting in a vajrasana, sit back on your heels for a moment, placing your hands right at the root of your thighs, and just follow your breath for a few cycles, pressing with your hands on the root of the thighs as you inhale, noticing the widening of the ribcage. But without force, you're not forcing an expansion in the chest.

That can itself cause some agitation. See if you can find this pattern of the relaxation in the muscles that aren't needed. So the muscles you aren't using are just getting out of the way of the natural rhythm of your breath. The quieter your body can get, the more you can hear in the breathing, the more sensation you can feel in the ribcage. There's a tool I like to use here that helps you focus your attention on the diaphragm.

It's a very simple piece of thera-band. It's this rubber, stretchy material, but you can use any material. You can use a yoga strap. You can use a scarf. But the expansion of this gives you an extra sensitivity.

Do you want to put this around your ribs and just tie a knot in the front or back? So you don't want to tie this too tight so you stop breathing. But you can get this sensation as you inhale. You can feel the resistance against your ribs. Is that helpful?

Yes. Yeah. Just a few cycles of breath in your own time. Breathing into this band, and it also helps you feel where you're breathing most into the band. You get a sense of breathing into the back ribs.

Quite frequently, most of us were not breathing into our back body much at all. So you can use this as a tool to increase your awareness as a tool of resistance to breathe into. And then when you take it off, you often feel this great sense of lightness in the breath. Let the, take the band off and feel the same again now. Feel your, feel your diaphragm.

Feel that expansion. Feeling that lengthening of the spine of the side body of the whole torso on the inhalation. Which you can find more easily, the little pressure for the palms of, the heel of your hand right at the top of your thighs. The little pressure on the inhalation, which just encourages that sense of lengthening. And resisting the, the urge to collapse that back down on the exhalation.

Seeing how much lightness you can keep in your chest. How much broadness, volume you can keep in your torso as you exhale. So you can sit here and, and practice this breathing routine for another five or ten minutes if you wish, otherwise you can set yourself up, lie down for Shavasana. So sometimes we use a lot of props for Shavasana, blankets, straps, sandbags. Can also be really lovely to do it very, very simply.

No support, just feeling the connection of your body to the ground. Releasing the head, letting the head be heavy. Feeling a broadness of your front chest, but also broadness of the back chest. Make sure there's space between your shoulder blades. Feeling your diaphragm, feeling your rib cage, expanding the whole circumference of your torso.

Sorry. And bending your knees, rolling over to one side, remembering as always to take your time coming out of Shavasana, using the strength of your arms to push yourself up, letting the head be very heavy, coming to sit on your mat and pausing here for a moment, finding this transition between your yoga practice, between what you do on the mat and getting up going about your daily business. Seeing if for the rest of today you may be able to draw your attention back to your diaphragm back to the rib cage, back to this ease that you've created in your breath through the torso. Do you feel a change in your sensations of the ribs, of the side body? Feels more open, especially horizontally in this direction.

And building relationship with your diaphragms, the very primal part of your body. The more you can understand it, the more you can sense it, the more feedback you get. You can use all of these breath observations that we're working on in the past few classes, the next few classes, as a guide to how your body is feeling. Sometimes our minds get so caught up in things, we forget to use this very simple sensations that we feel in our body to give us guidance, give us awareness of how we're feeling.


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