Breathe Smarter, Not Harder

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In a recent Fundamentals Immersion Course, I asked the participants to share one aha! moment from the weekend – something they learned about themselves, or about Somatic Movement that was profound for them.

One participant said that “playing with his breath” unlocked his movement. He realized that he had been working too hard to “inhale, and exhale, and inhale, and exhale” as if doing movement drills. At a certain point in the weekend I guided the participants “go with their own breath cycle” and take two breath cycles (a full inhale, gentle exhale, then inhale and exhale gently again) to move into arch and release to neutral. We did the same with the back lift – and the movements felt freer and easier – more pleasant and natural. He was amazed.

Sensory Motor Amnesia and chronic stress can literally take our breath away and we find ourselves “reverse breathing:” sucking our bellies inward as we inhale rather than letting our bellies soften to allow the air to be drawn into the lungs. Breathing itself is a pandiculation – a gentle contraction and release of the diaphragm – so there’s no need to be overly rigid about your breathing. Sometimes we need to experiment with our breath in order to get the most sensation and control out of a movement!

Pandiculate your breathing

Try this: Lie on one side (for the Side Bend). Make sure your head is supported by a pillow or rolled up towel. Take the hand of the underside arm and place it, as feedback, on your topside ribs. Place your topside arm over your head for the “arm sweep variation” of the Side Bend. Inhale, and as you exhale fully, squeeze all the air out of your topside ribs and move into your “accordion,” tightening the waist muscles to allow the head and foot to float up naturally.  As you release, take two full breath cycles to release back to the floor, inhaling gently into your own hand so you can feel what’s opening and releasing through the side of your body. Can you sense more when you take more time to breathe? Repeat that again.

Then, come up into your side bend, hand still on your waist – and stop! Inhale deeply into the underside ribcage. Take your time and allow your ribs to spread open like little mouths sucking in the air. Exhale, and then continue with two breaths to lengthen and release.

Do this on both sides.

How can you play with your breath to get the most out of your practice? Try it and see.