How do we achieve a balance between steadiness and openess in āsana? Adapting the posture appropriately and noticing how the body responds to movement is the key. The breath is an important indicator . If it becomes short and laboured, we know that we are holding tension.
Our practice with uddiyana bandha this week has been interesting. Most people felt it easier to release the diaphragm with uddiyana bandha whilst in semi-supine. Depictions of this practice are often shown in a sitting or standing position but it seems more helpful to begin to learn how to release tension in a tension-free posture. Semi-supine is termed “constructive rest” in the Alexander Technique.
During quiet breathing most of the respiratory work is carried out by the diaphragm. It is a natural, unconscious pattern of movement. The diaphragm needs to be very pliable and resistant to fatigue. Other respiratory muscles become important when we increase/deepen our breathing. The practice of uddiyana bandha, drawing up the ribs whilst the body is emptied of air, consciously stretches the diaphragm and engages the accessory muscles for breathing. A healthy two-way movement of the muscle is practised and pressure is taken off the abdominal organs and the pelvic floor.
Views have been divided this week about approaches to applying uddiyana bandha:
Conscious emptying the belly before lifting the ribs seems to have created a tension around the lifting of the ribs whilst emptied of air – a sense of I emptied my lungs and I need to breathe in, which is what happens when the ribs move. Working in semi-supine and performing the movements without breathing, seems to help in reducing tension – ie. I can move the belly and diaphragm without breathing; I’m ok and so the next inbreathe can be free of tension. Breathing, free of tension, is the aim of the practice.
We strive for balanced breathing rather than “over breathing”. In the 1960’s Dr Buteyko, a Russian medical scientist was interested in the link between our breathing patterns and our health. His findings threw light on dysfunctional breathing. Natural or normal breathing results in a very specific accumulated gas mixture that our organism requires to function properly.
The Buteyko Method has been recognized by the British Thoracic Society as one strategy to help asthma sufferers. It is a very specific approach taught by accredited practitioners. As with the practice of Uddiyana bandha in yoga, it must be learned intelligently and without force Pete Blackaby P166-167 . The Buteyko Method stresses the importance of breathing through the nose rather than the mouth – more on this next week.