October 2016 By Saraswathi Vasudevan Saraswathi Vasudevan reiterates the importance of breath in asana Somehow, breathing in asana practice has been relegated to the background because of the excessive focus on the body and movements! How to breathe is very important in order to make the practice more efficient and effective! And when we learn how to breathe deeper and fuller, we can also make our pranayama practice more efficient! We begin with learning how to exhale. Exhalation allows for efficient emptying of the lungs, preparing for a more efficient in-breath. It is said that through good exhalation, we remove more than 70 per cent waste products from the system. In normal unconscious breathing, exhalation is passive but in yogic breathing, we make exhalation more active than inhalation. Start with a comfortable lying position – preferably with legs bent. Focus on normal breathing for a few minutes, checking if we are breathing naturally – like a baby breathing – abdomen pushed out on inhalation, relaxing on exhalation. Next, initiate a conscious exhalation by drawing the lower abdomen in and up, simultaneously relaxing the chest. It will take some training to gently contract the abdomen muscles inward and upward (without creating any tension in the lower-abdomen-back area), while dropping and relaxing the chest at the same time. Thirdly, extend the exhalation step by step while keeping inhalation free. This will give us an opportunity to refine the exhalation technique and have better control over it. Start with 2 seconds or 3 seconds and slowly extend till you reach your maximum comfortable exhalation. Once you reach your maximum comfortable exhalation – maybe 5-6 seconds – stay with that ratio for 6-10 breaths, further refining your technique of exhalation. You will also observe that your inhalation has also considerably improved in depth, length and smoothness. Ensure you are not pushing out the lower abdomen during inhalation – which counters your exhalation movement. For people with heaviness in the lower abdomen, this technique may be difficult initially as we hardly ever use the lower abdomen muscles to breathe! Also with the constant downward pull of gravity on the abdominal organs and weight gain in that area, this technique does not come so naturally. However, it is a great way to counter the effect of gravity, and prevent or address mild prolapse of bladder, or uterus. It also helps to flatten and relax the lower back with every conscious exhalation – especially for women with deep lordosis (lower back curvature). This technique helps with efficient movement of the diaphragm and provides parasympathetic activation, relaxing the body and mind. Each exhalation is also a detoxifying process. Tataaka mudra Lie down on the mat with your legs stretched, feet close together, arms by the side of the body, chin down, eyes closed. Lock your fingers together and turn your palms out – hands on the abdomen. As you inhale, raise your arms up, fingers locked and stretched, bring the hands to the floor above, palms facing out. Stay in this position and slowly begin to extend exhalation with each breath, drawing the lower abdomen in and up and flattening the lower back. Hold the breath after exhalation for 4-5 seconds with the abdomen in, lower back flat and legs stretched, neck, arms, shoulders relaxed. Stay in this posture for 5-10 breaths before lowering the arms on exhalation. Relax with legs bent. It helps with better circulation, massaging and detoxifying organs in the abdominal area.
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