Updated: Jan 20, 2022
Happy 'Blue' Monday Yogis!
Yes really. As I write this, the sun is shining. The sky is beautifully blue. The air is crisp & clear & you can feel, with that frosty air, the utter freshness of the air coming into your lungs. That is a happy ‘blue’ Monday to me, for the very simple but powerful reason of being grateful to be alive.
In our 9:00am Community Yoga class today, we incorporated what is called Back Body Breathing into our practice. Some of you will have tried this with me before a good while ago, back in the pre-pandemic days at the GAA Clubhouse.
While it is not ‘hard’ to do, Back Body Breathing does take adjusting to. It’s literally what it says it is. Shifting our awareness consciously to the ‘forgotten’ part of the lungs. Like any organ, our lungs are not one-dimensional.
However, we may be kindly forgiven for focussing our attention on the front, the way our eyes face, the part of the body that we can easily see and relate to, even the internal parts that make themselves somewhat evident through the surface front area of the body; our ribcage and chest rising and falling with each breath.
Back Body Breathing flips that around. We focus instead on attempting to ‘fill’ the back part of the lungs; the part facing behind, the back of the rib-cage expanding, instead of the front, on the inhale.
We mixed it up this morning in class together; trying Back Body Breathing seated, on All-Fours, standing and lying down in Makarasana (Lazy Crocodile above). We even tried it whilst balancing, in Downward Facing Dog and in Virabhadrsana I (Warrior I) too. All aimed at getting familiar with Back Body Breathing in different orientations.
Why is a good idea to try Back-Body Breathing?
It’s good for core engagement and toning the pelvic floor (especially important postpartum/ pregnancy). It mobilises the rib cage, internally stretching the low back muscles too.
We start engaging secondary, supporting muscles that we may not use much (or really at all!); we start to really utilise the full capacity of our lungs.
Back Body Breathing also requires quite an extra degree of mental engagement, staying focussed on what is, for most of us, a rare or an atypical form of breathing.
We will do this again together in class another time but you can try it at home too.
Seated or Standing:
Put your hands on the high part of your waist, thumbs to the back, pretty much the height of your solar plexus, a good bit above your belly. Next, move your hands as far up and back as you comfortably can. Let the bones of your thumbs connect with the bones of your ribs with light pressure.
As your breath flows in, consciously direct the breath to fill the back part of your lungs, allowing those back rib bones to push your thumbs apart.
Some of you will have done something similar with me before, lying down on your back, the front body relaxed, hands on belly, fingers pointing in towards each other, for our Deep Belly Breathing. In that version, the fingers part on the peak of the inhale and rejoin at the bottom of the exhale.
So just ‘turn that around’ for Back Body Breathing - thumbs parting at the back on the inhale and rejoining on the exhale. And once you have the ‘gist’ of it, you don’t need to use the hands at all.
You can also try Back Body Breathing (without the hand/thumb guidance) in either Child’s Pose or lying down, in Lazy Crocodile ideally (on the front body) and maybe even with a cushion or two blankets beneath the chest - this gently prompts the back lungs to stretch/expand (as above).
Don’t ‘try’ too hard.
Rest in-between, let the breath return to your own natural easy rhythm and pattern for a spell then try again.
You may feel ‘awkward’ doing it at first, maybe even ‘over-thinking’ it. Just keep it doable.
For anyone who sings, solo or in a choir, you may start to notice you can ‘hold a note’ for longer, once you’ve learned to utilise the full 3-D space of your lungs, & involving your ribcage, diaphragm muscles & the nearby supporting core & pelvic floor muscles to boot.
Ultimately whether we belt out a power ballad or not, we all want to benefit from the capability to breathe freely and fully, to really “3-D breathe”. When we breathe in, there is expansion in every direction - up , down, out front, out to the sides and out back. And the reverse on the breath going out.
Engaging in Back-Body Breathing can literally bring our attention to this forgotten ‘space’ and help us improve our lung health and maybe even assist with recovering from Upper Respiratory illnesses.
Finally, for anyone who recently experienced Covid-19 and is recovering and/or for anyone living with Long Covid, do give this kind of breathing a try.
Last year, the video below was recorded by an NHS Dr; it is a very particular version of ‘full-lung’ breathing that may help you.
The first part involves two cycles of 5 deep breaths (with breath retention) then another sixth breath & then a cough.
With each deep inhale, hold the breath in for 5 seconds, breath out fully; after 5 breaths, you then take in another breath (the 6th), then give a BIG COUGH at the end.
Repeat that process twice.
Then lie down ON YOUR FRONT, with a pillow under your chest, breath naturally, freely & as fully as you comfortably can & stay for 5-10 minutes.
“MAJORITY OF YOUR LUNGS ARE ON YOUR BACK, NOT YOUR FRONT”
As Doctor Sarfaraz Munshi says in the clip, it’s VERY IMPORTANT to not lie on your back, but on your front doing this - watch the clip to hear his explanation. And generally, not to lie flat on your back for extended periods when ill with any chest/lung infection.
Look forward to seeing you on your Yoga mats soon Yogis - whether In-Person, Live Online or On-Demand.
Om Shanti 🙏🏽✨