I find that many of my students have difficulty lengthening the breath or timing movements in and out of poses to match the breath. It’s easy to run out of breath, even in gentle poses. Besides that, there’s a lot to think about – timing the breath and “watching” it move through your body as your upper torso moves here, the right arm moves there, the back leg does one thing and your head does another! Some people may wonder why the breath is so important – can’t we just move and let the breath do its own thing?
In Viniyoga, the breath is the point. There’s so much that the breath does physiologically – oxygenating the cells, promoting lymph and blood flow, and calming our stressed-out nervous systems – to name a few. But there’s more. Moving with the breath will help you achieve poses more easily. Allowing your chest to expand on spine-lengthening or back bending poses facilitates the movement into those poses. Starting the exhale from a contraction of the abdomen encourages movement into forward bends. And, in our high-energy, multitasking world, it’s easy to run our lives in our heads and forget that there’s a body attached. The breath can serve as a liaison between your head and your body (body, meet your mind! Mind, say hello to your body!).
One way to deepen and lengthen your breath is through a technique we call “krama” breathing (krama is a Sanskrit term meaning “segmented”). Try this:
Sit comfortably, on the floor or on a chair, spine erect, back of the neck long. Put your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen. Start to breathe mindfully, inhaling in and down, exhaling out and up. Bring your breath to a 4 second inhale and a 4 second exhale.
Now inhale just into your chest – feel your right hand lift – for 2 seconds. Pause 1 second, and then continue to inhale – another 2 seconds – allowing the abdomen to push out and your left hand to lift. Exhale, moving your awareness from your abdomen to your chest, for 6 seconds, feeling the left hand fall and then the right. Do this several times.
Add a second pause: inhale 2 seconds into the chest, pause, 2 seconds more allowing the abdomen to push out, pause again, and then exhale for 6. Do this several times.
Now increase each part of the breath: inhale 3 seconds into chest, pause 2 seconds, 3 seconds to the bottom of the rib cage, exhale 8 seconds. Do this several times.
And last round: inhale 3 seconds into the chest, pause 2, inhale 3 more, pause 2, exhale 8. A few more times.
It might be interesting to do some poses, then do this seated practice, and do the poses again – and notice if there’s a difference.