“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein



Friday, February 18, 2011

A Cool Tip for Deeper Breathing in Yoga

First, heartfelt thanks for all of your “likes” and comments on our Facebook page. Enjoy the free e-book, Anatomy for Yoga, Tips and Techniques
Book 1
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We’ve heard from practitioners all over the world on how these techniques have enhanced their practice and teaching. This is music to our ears. To show my appreciation, I want to offer a tip that can help you dramatically expand the chest. This cue on engaging the accessory muscles of breathing can provide a quantum leap in the global effect of your yoga practice. First, a little background . . .

As many of you know, I studied yoga for an extended period at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. The Iyengars are true world experts in yogic breathing. During my time there, I was exposed to great teachings of pranayama from Yogacharya Iyengar, his daughter Geeta, and son Prashant. These classes were amazing; their effect would last for days.

I continued to practice pranayama when I returned from India and gradually developed an understanding of the art. During this process, I used my medical training to analyze the breathing techniques. I found that I could use Western science to amplify the effects of pranayama.

Now, part of pranayama involves breathing deeply. The body has a group of muscles that it recruits when we need to take deeper breaths, say after running a sprint. Recruiting these muscles expands the chest to a greater extent than when using the diaphragm alone. The result is increased inspiratory volume and improved lung ventilation (on the alveolar level). It occurred to me that intentionally engaging these breathing muscles would augment the volume of my inhalations during pranayama and asana practice. So I developed a series of cues to activate the various accessory muscles and incorporated them into my practice. The effect was immediate and amazing. After my practice was finished and throughout the day, my breathing felt effortless, leaving me energized.
How cool is that?

serratus anterior expanding the lungs
Activating the serratus anterior
to expand the lungs.
So, here’s a cue for activating one of my fave accessory muscles—the serratus anterior (SA) and his buddies, the rhomboids. Pause for a second. Rest your hands on your thighs. Now, exhale naturally and then gently draw the shoulders back to bring the scapulae (shoulder blades) towards the spine. As you inhale, imagine pressing the sides of your shoulders and upper arms against an imaginary wall, like a doorframe. Feel how this expands your chest. Repeat this cue two more times before reading on . . .

rhomboids and serratus anterior open the chest
Okay, Welcome Back . . .

The rhomboids (major and minor) originate from the spinous processes of cervical vertebrae six and seven and thoracic vertebrae one through four. They insert onto the medial border of the scapula and act to stabilize and draw the shoulder blades towards the midline. The serratus anterior originates from ribs one through nine and inserts on the inside of the entire medial border of the scapula. If the scapula is fixed (by engaging the rhomboids) then contracting the serratus anterior lifts and expands the ribcage. Just focus on this action for the moment. (When the shoulder blade is released, the SA rotates and draws the scapula laterally—but that’s another blog postJ.)

Ok, now repeat the steps from above—take a relaxed exhale, then draw the scapulae towards the midline and stabilize them there using the rhomboids (feel how this expands the chest forward). Then as you inhale, attempt to press the shoulders outwards against an imaginary wall. Take a relaxed exhalation and repeat two more times.

rhomboids stabilize the scapula
Rhomboids stabilizing
the scapulae.
Do you notice how it’s easier to engage these muscles the second time around? That’s why I asked you to take a break, read about the anatomy, and then try it again. During the brief period you were reading, your unconscious brain formed new circuitry to activate these important muscles more efficiently. To see this process of chest expansion in action, we’ve created a video that illustrates this concept with the rhomboids and another accessory muscle of breathing, the pectoralis minor. This will give you an idea of how the ribcage expands when activating the accessories.

Use this cue when you practice this weekend. For example, as you do Surya Namaskar, when you inhale to raise your arms overhead from Tadasana, imagine pressing the shoulders outwards against a wall. Try it in other poses as well, such as Up Dog, Down Dog, and so on. This technique is especially effective for Vinyasa Flow—you guys will be floating!

Life is for enjoyment, friends, so enjoy this technique. Keep the comments coming on Facebook and be sure to visit us for your free e-book and chakra poster!

Namasté,

Ray

19 comments:

  1. one of the basic every-class things i do (i just started teaching yoga classes, mostly to beginners, esp seniors) is emphasize natural / yogic / deep breathing -

    this new info will help them and me ;-)

    thank you!

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  2. Fantastic article, I have just returned from a Yoga retreat in which we learned some pranayama, and I have now brought the practice home to Australia with me. I am very much a fan of your anatomical spin on the techniques.....thanks for sharing.

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  3. Fantastic article... I have just learned some pranayama at a Yoga retreat and it is fabulous to read your anatomical spin on things, thanks for sharing! :)

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  4. Hello Adan,

    This can be very useful in seniors--they will benefit from learning breathing and can excel in it really. Good to see ya!
    Ray

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  5. Thank you Health Wiz! Much appreciate your compliment on the article. Good luck with your pranayama, too. This technique really helped my practice and I think you'll have a good experience with it.
    All the best,

    Ray

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  6. Thanks ever so much for your thorough and thoughtful postings. I learn SO much from you and absolutely love your books. They are reference materials that get used a lot as I prepare my classes.

    Namaste
    Heidi
    yogainthegorge.blogspot.com

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  7. Thank you, Heidi! Very gratifying for me to read your comment, delighted to hear that you and your students are benefiting from our work. Much appreciation from all of us!

    Namaste'

    Ray

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  8. Hi,
    I've really been appreciating your posts and find them a fascinating combination of intuition and reasoning. It's rare I find something that my mind and body seem to understand equally but in their own ways. Many thanks.
    I would really enjoy your e-book I think but do not want to join Facebook. Is there any plan to make this available directly from your site?
    Namaste.

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  9. Hello PatchofPeace,

    Thank you for your compliment. I try to combine art and science, body and mind in my writing. Like practicing yoga, it's a process of frequent adjustments to find a center, while enjoying it at the same time.
    For the e-book just go to:

    http://www.bandhayoga.com/TipsAndTechniques_inside.html

    Apologies for the inconvenience on this--Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Namaste'

    Ray

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  10. There are many ways to approach breathing (and asana as well). It is a very deep subject and the yogic techniques probably hold keys to many things we can't imagine yet. In terms of the tips I offer, they're intended to give a simple tool that one can apply quickly to get a new experience with practice. My experience is that they enhance the effects of yoga--and this is with many students as well. One has to be careful and use common sense with anything this powerful, but used in moderation (I use a timer to prevent overdoing it myself), they can give great benefit. I can say with confidence that the technique I offer in this post will help you take a deeper breath in Vinyasa or Pranayama. It augments the diaphragm. As a result, I and my students feel great after the practice. I don't use it outside of practice simply because I don't focus on my breathing when I'm going about my day. The practice resonates through my day though and I notice that my breathing is freer and feels great.
    In terms of physiology, I have a fairly strong background. It was my favorite subject in med school, and I spent a very extensive period applying it in the real life setting of an intensive care unit before I went into orthopedic surgery. This was not an ordinary ICU either. In that setting you really get an understanding of the interactions between all of the different systems--cardio, neuro, renal, respiratory etc. When you've done this in the setting of the systems failing and trying to compensate for each other, and are intervening to try to bring things into balance, you gain an uncommon understanding of the normal physiology. This helps one to recognize erroneous misinterpretations of science--which is a dangerous thing. Like most surgeons,I think way beyond anatomy and biomechanics--I couldn't do otherwise if I wanted to.


    Namaste'

    Ray

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  11. Hey Ray Heleen here :)
    Loving your blog !
    What a generous way to share your knowledge!
    and your New books!
    I have a question asked by a student,
    about the shoulder joint... who else would I ask!
    This student has calcium deposits in her shoulders...
    She was told by her chiro not to do any yoga with arms raised,
    I imagine down dog is out in his books as well...
    Any comment or advise on this?

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  12. Hi Helene!

    Good to hear from you and thanks for the compliment on our blog. On the issue of the calcium deposits in the student's shoulder, I will drop you an email on that as it is a bit more complex of an answer, depending on where they are and what the person's symptoms and signs are. I can do a blog post on the general subject in the future though.

    All the Best~see you in the spring in MTL! Ray

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  13. Thanks Ray,
    It is for me the first time I have come across this myself, I look forward to what you would find on this subject. Someone just emailed me to inquire about this all the way from San Juan!

    ENd of May will be here soon enough! Looking forward to having you back at my center again for another of your superb weekend workshops.

    Heleen

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  14. Thank you, Helene! Looking forward to the workshop in May. All the Best~Ray

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  15. Nice description. I wish I'd been taught that in my first pranayama class.

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  16. Brilliant stuff, use it all the time :) It has also been interesting to explore retaining the breath during Surya Namaskara, right after chaturanga, then moving into updog without breathing and releasing the belly. fixing the scapula then pressing the outer arms into the doorframe really expands the chest. Thank you so much for sharing the fruits of your practice Ray! See you in Canada next year. Mike

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    Replies
    1. Hi Mike,

      Good to hear. Will try your retention tip today--looks good. I use this cue in updog, helps to stabilize the shoulders as well and expand the chest forward. Thanks for stopping by and look forward to seeing you in Canada! Best~Ray

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