How to Breath Correctly during Yoga Practices; Anatomy of Breathing Part 2
In Part 1 of this article series, we looked at the muscles and biomechanics involved in normal breathing. Here, in Part 2, let’s dig a little deeper in the body and see what happens when things go wrong, in addition to the integration of the breath with the pelvic floor.
As we already know, the diaphragm is the most active muscle during breathing. When this muscle lacks elasticity, we see changes in both posture and respiration. When the diaphragm ceases to work properly, or optimally and it shows up clearly in both asana and pranayama practice. Because during asana, the demand on the breath may be higher than it is at rest, improper breathing is very easy to spot. During pranayama, since we have focused attention on the breath, we can use this as an opportunity to both identify improper biomechanics and correct our breathing.
When inquire further into the fascial connections the diaphragm has, we can easily see how lack of diaphragmatic movement has a significant effect on overall health. In yoga practice, tension in the upper abdomen shows up as lack of movement in that area, which means the diaphragm isn’t moving much. Also, the lower ribs will fail to move up and out, demonstrating the constriction.
During a normal breath, there is a large pressure change in both the thoracic and abdominal cavities, as the diaphragm presses down on the abdomen during the inhale, intra-abdominal pressure increases. However, if the diaphragm isn’t free to move naturally, the body must handle the pressure in other ways. What generally ends up happening is something called clavicular breathing; where the outward movement we should see in the upper abdomen, mid back and lower ribs is instead seen in the raising of the upper ribs and clavicles (collar bones) by the muscles of the neck and air is only drawn into the upper lobes of the lungs (usually only the top 1/3 of the lungs). Although clavicular breathing happens naturally as the final part of an inhale, it should not be the sole movement of the breath.
Overtime, this breathing pattern will contribute to tight, short neck, chest and upper back muscles. This shift will have an effect across the whole body as the spine will eventually compensate to keep the body in balance and the head in an upright position.
In addition, since the diaphragm has a direct fascial connection to the Psoas, Anterior Longitudinal Ligament and ultimately the pelvic floor, if it lacks its elastic potential,
it will continue to tug on the fascia, creating shortness and inhibition of these important central body structures. This then opens the door to many undesirable physical and emotional symptoms such as, lack of mobility, back pain, decreased reproductive health, constipation, anxiety, headaches, sleeplessness, and incontinence, to name a few.
Correct Breath & Bandha Integration
To review the biomechanics of normal, correct breathing, please read Part 1
Remembering that the diaphragm can move the ribcage without the assistance from any other muscles, is very important to understanding how to breathe in yoga practices. The activity of other muscles is what has a profound impact on the shape of the abdominal cavity.
The pelvic floor muscles (the pelvic diaphragm), work together with the lower portion of the transverse abdominus muscle (often called Uddiyana bandha, but not to be confused with Uddiyana bhanda Kriya), and the thoracic diaphragm to change the shape of the abdominal cavity. First, we need to build awareness in the pelvic floor, and be sure not to use the superficial gluteus muscles. We also need to be able to control the activity in the lower abdomen (specifically lower transverse), separately from the upper abdomen and more superficial abdominal muscles (rectus abdominals). It can seem difficult at first, however it is possible as the activation of these muscles comes from different spinal nerves. It takes practice, and focus. Asana can assist in releasing restriction in other tissues which may be inhibiting our ability to activate these areas and simple breathing practices can help us to access and refine them.
|Bandha Controlled Inhale||To integrate the breath with the pelvic|
floor and manage the pressure in the
abdominal cavity differently, we can
activate the pelvic floor and draw in
the lower abdomen, on the inhale, forcing
greater expansion in the upper abdomen and rib cage.
|Bandha Controlled Exhale|
Although the ultimate benefits of this are energetic, it also has a significant impact on posture by strengthening the pelvic floor and encouraging proper breathing. To begin, it’s often easier to train the activation of the pelvic diaphragm and lower abdomen at the end of the exhale. It may feel like the activation of the pelvic floor is decreasing as we inhale, however if we keep our focus on it, it’s not actually letting go. It FEELS as though it’s lessening because of the pressure exerted by the contents of the abdomen. The same goes for retention in pranayama practice. Ideally the pelvic floor and lower abdomen are held “up” consistently during pranayama practices and asana. Then the question arises, “How much effort?” The answer? “Just enough.”During normal exhalation, the abdomen returns in to resting, and the pelvic diaphragm moves up as the diaphragm also moves up and the pressure in the abdominal cavity decreases.
For a 10 minute exercise on how to breath properly, click here.