by Laura McCorry
This post originally published on Yoga Digest.
If you’ve ever heard “breathe into [body part other than the lungs],” and been confused or written such instructions off as a meaningless hippie yoga phrase, this post is for you!
There are some things that yoga teachers say that just don’t make sense… until one day they do.
Recently after class, a student approached me and asked rather hesitantly, “How exactly do you ‘breathe into your hips,’ when it’s your lungs that breathe?” I was immediately excited to explain in more detail what I meant by that phrase. At the same time, I wished I had provided more detailed instruction during class when it would have been the most useful.
Yes, the lungs fill with air and empty of air during breathing. But the diaphragm must first contract. The ribs and intercostal muscles expand. You actively draw air in through your nose and push it out. So breathing is a complex process that involves many body parts.
But how do you “breathe” into the limbs or joints?
By changing your definition of what it means to breathe. Breathing can be just as much an energetic or mental activity as it is a physical action. When you inhale, you actively expand the body. When you exhale, you soften and let go.
Part visualization, part soft muscular engagement, the act of “breathing” anywhere in the body should be experienced in sync with your actual breath. You can “breathe” into the hips by visualizing and experiencing a muscular expansion around your hips in time with your inhale. On the exhale breath, soften the muscles surrounding the hip joint.
The more you practice linking breath and conscious, specific relaxation points in the body, the more you increase your overall body awareness. You might even become more aware of the energetic body, which contains all of your thoughts and emotions.
Using the breath to focus on a single energetic part of the body is one way to practice Dharana, the seventh limb of yoga which means one-pointed concentration. This concentration is the work that precedes meditation, which boasts so many benefits from reduced stress and anxiety to improved sleep and digestion.
Purposefully guiding the breath “into” specific areas of the physical body to release tension is a great introductory method to self-guided meditation. Use this technique in any slow class (like restorative or yin yoga) or during savasana as you slowly breathe towards whole body relaxation.
Short and Sweet Home Restorative Practice:
- Pick 3-5 restorative yoga poses. Forward fold, supine twist, supported bridge pose, supta baddha konasana, and legs up the wall are all easily accessible restorative yoga poses.
- Spend at least ten rounds of conscious breath in each pose, then allow yourself to rest and breathe naturally for as long as you would like to remain in the pose. When the pose feels finished, move on to the next.
- During those ten rounds (inhale, exhale) of conscious breath, ask yourself where you feel tension. “Send” the breath there, your inhale creates expansion and your exhale creates relaxation. Rest in savasana for 5-10 minutes.
In the words of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, “do your practice and all is coming.” Don’t forget to breathe!
Yoga and Laura had an on-again-off-again relationship from 2004 until 2009 when they decided to move in together and there’s been no looking back since. Passionate about both yoga and writing, Laura loves to introduce others to the joys and benefits of yoga and healthy living.