During the first day of the Yoga Teacher Training, when starting a few rounds of Sun Salutations, it became obvious that I was struggling to keep up with the flow. I initially thought the lack of strength in my arms made it hard to hold positions like Plank or Downward Facing Dog. After a few days of training at home I understood that the answer was the breath and the key was to synchronize the postures with the breath. I would like to share with you some tips to find better breathing in Sun Salutations and Flow workout.
All movements should be initiated by breath, making the practice fluid. Over time this will become more natural. Some movements are done on the inhale and others on the exhale. In general:
1. Lengthening the spine and back bending are initiated by inhales, and like wise deep inhaling will aid in opening the spine and front body. Inhalation is generally done automatically by the diaphragm but you can direct the frequency and depth of each inhalation by contracting certain muscles of breathing (draw the shoulder blades towards the midline, draw the shoulders back and down to open the chest forward, fix the shoulders blades in place and expand the chest upwards and outward).
2. Forward bends and twisting are initiated by exhales. Exhaling deeply will also deepen the forward fold or twist. The exhale has a deep effect to the workings of the core and is therefore used when the abdominals are most engaged. Make the exhalation a more active process by gently engaging the abdominal and intercoastal muscles by slightly squeezing the chest, to aid remove more of the carbon dioxide that is produced during metabolism.
Suryanamaskar sequence: This sequence of 10 postures is traditionally performed in the morning to greet the new day, for warming up the body and connecting to the breath. They are often performed in sets of 5, but if you are new to the practice, begin with 2 or 3 rounds, start slowly and steadily, it may take a while for the breath connection to feel natural. Each time you flow through this sequence, focus on synchronizing your breath with the movements of your body. In this sequence, odd numbered moves are done while inhaling. Think of the inhales as the “working phase” of the breath. Even numbered moves are done while exhaling. Think of exhales as the “relaxing phase” of the breath.
Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), feet either together or hip width distance, arms alongside the body.
1. Inhale, Ardha Chakrasana (Half Wheel Pose), raise both arms up, elongate the spine, contract the gluteal muscles as you bend backwards. Gaze in between eyebrows.
2. Exhale, Uttansana (Intense forward bend), lengthen the spine, fold forward from the hips with belly in. Place palms down next to respective feet. Try to bring the abdomen in contact with the thighs, face in contact with the shins.
3. Inhale, lift your head and chest to come to half way lift. Extend through the crown of your head as your press either your fingertips again the ground or your shins.
4. Exhale, release back into Uttanasana, place the hands on the floor and then jump back into Chaturanga Dandasana. Elbows hug your ribs as you lower to the floor.
5. Inhale, Bhujangasana (Cobra pose), slide the upper body forward and up, rolling the shoulders back. Keep the pelvis, legs and feet on the ground, engage the gluteal muscles slightly and stretch the sternum forward. Gaze in between the eyebrows.
6. Exhale, Adho Mukha Swanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose), ground the palms, lift chest and hips off the floor, bend at the hip and point sit bones to the ceiling. Straighten knees and elbows, forming an inverted V shape. Legs are separated hip-width apart. Keep the spine and legs straight. Fingers are extended, arms and legs are active. Contract the quadriceps to draw the knee caps up. If possible, press the heels to the ground. Gaze towards the navel.
7. Inhale, walk or jump your the feet to the front of the mat raising into half way lift.
8. Exhale, release to Uttansana (Intense forward bend), alignment as per Step 2.
9. Inhale, Ardha Chakrasana (Half Wheel Pose), lengthen the spine, raise both arms up, come up to standing with a flat back.
10. Exhale, Tadasana (Mountain Pose), arms alongside the body or Samasthiti (Standing prayer), place the palms together at the heart centre. Gaze forward.
Observe your breath. To help focus on the breath, practice Ujjayi breathing, also referred to as the “ocean breath”. It is characterized by an audibly hollow, deep, soft sound coming from a gentle contraction in your throat. This breath enables to maintain a rhythm to the practice, take in enough oxygen, and helps build energy, while clearing toxins. Ideally you should maintain smooth, even ujjayi breathing throughout the entire practice.
During the practice, if you start experiencing difficulties breathing, it means you need to adjust the posture to allow for breath. When you become agitated, use the breath to calm the mind as well as open and steady the body. Stress and tension cause the breath rate to increase, peace and calm slow the breath rate. The opposite is also true, slowing the breath rate will bring peace and calm to the mind. As the mind calms, the body will follow, tight muscles will soften and supporting muscles will become more steady.
I have been practicing these techniques every morning for almost 2 months now, and my breathing has become a lot lighter and easier. Going through 10 consecutive rounds of sun salutations feels less challenging. I have also started to experience benefits in my daily life, to calm my mind and body when i become agitated or nervous.
Marie, YTT200 (Sep’17-Weekend)