Were you ever focused on a task so much, that you forgot to breathe? Pffff, I certainly did! A perfect example happened when I was a dancer. I loved the fast and complicated jumping exercises, but was always gasping for air afterwards. It was only after a teacher asked me “do you even breathe while jumping?” that I realized I was holding my breath during the whole exercise! Crazy. I was so focused on the task that, completely unconsciously, I interrupted my breathing.
The first step to change stress is to become aware of your breathing
Complicated tasks, stressful moments and difficult situation are and will be everywhere we go in life. Sometimes more than we want. Breathing exercises are an excellent, quick and easy solution to relieve stress, and make us more aware of our breathing patterns. And as I always say: becoming conscious is the first step to change habitual patterns that don’t serve us (anymore). The feedback of my dance teacher struck me like lightening. Ever since that moment I paid much more attention to my breathing, eventually sparking my enthusiasm for pranayama. It definitely made my jumping exercises lighter and much more enjoyable.
Feeling stuck in breathing fuels feelings of stress
I’m a huge fan of pranayama exercises, as they can literally lift a cloud from my head and re-energize my body with plenty of oxygen. But, for a long time I couldn’t find this bliss-experience where my breath was flowing totally free. It somehow always felt… stuck. Sometimes it could even nauseate me, like I had a rock in my stomach. Obviously, this made an open and relaxed breathing impossible, as feeling stuck physically, made me not at ease mentally and emotionally as well. The more I tried to breath deeply, the more out of breath I would become. And I simply thought I needed to practice more. And more. And more.
The lower back is an essential support for abdominal breathing and stress reduction
It was only after I learned about Critical Alignment Yoga, that I understood that it was actually my posture that was my pitfall for a relaxed and open breathing. As I was trying to sit upright, my diaphragm that was too tense to be able to completely connect to my abdomen, which caused it to be overstretched. For my diaphragm to relax, I needed to understand how my sternum, lower back and pelvis were all related to allow true abdominal breathing. It suddenly clicked: It was not that I was breathing wrongly, but it was my sitting position that was out of alignment!
Don’t copy the outside, but reconnect to your inside!
Now, do you know if you are sitting according to your personal physical circumstances? Or do you unconsciously copy a perfect picture to look as upright as you can possible look?
To connect to abdominal breathing, you need to follow following 3 steps to make sure your lower back is supporting the space to breath in your belly, and your lower ribs are connecting to the position of your lower back, so your diaphragm can relax.
- Make sure you can sit on your sitting bones, and not behind it. Elevate your pelvis from the floor if needed.
- Position your lower back in it’s natural curve, making sure your belly has space to breathe
- Lower your ribs towards your belly, without losing the curve of your lower back, and without moving your pelvis. This will activate your inner core: the abdominal transversus muscles. Your belly should be firm (not hard or totally soft) and move outward slightly, to provide space to breath.
- Without tensing your neck, bring your chin down a little, without rounding the upper back. This brings your attention downward and into your belly. Close your eyes.
- Push your fingers softly into the belly, just underneath your belly button. Breath in to the pressure of your fingers, and breath out into the same pressure. The space of you breathing does not change with the inhale or exhale.
- Stay in this position for 3-5 minutes, and feel that you can ground into your belly, without losing the alertness in your lower back.
Note: sometimes you need to round your upper back slightly to be able to connect your lower ribs to the curve your lower back. This shows that your upper back is a bit stiff, which is ok for now. The most important thing is that your diaphragm can relax. Opening up the upper back will follow with breathing into your sternum and mobilizing the thoracic spine with exercises.
I’d like to hear from you!
Do you ever feel out of breath? And what do you do to reduce your stress level and restore your free breathing? I’m curious! Share your insights below in the comments section.
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