by Angela Clark
Our lungs are one of the larger organs in the body and yet they say the average person uses about one-third to one-half of their lung’s capacity. When the muscles of the body are tight and or weak, they limit our capacity to take a deep breath.
Although the lungs is where the magic of breath takes place, we have a crew of muscles (Breathing Diaphragm, Serratus Posterior, Intercostals – just to name a few) that help facilitate the drawing in and letting out of breath. After a long day at work or traveling these muscles can feel tight and tense and our energy a bit depleted. Here are a few moves to help you breath more deeply so you can rest more easily.
So let’s get to it, try these simple moves at home and see how you feel afterwards. Please consult your healthcare provider before beginning this practice and it may not be suitable if you are dealing with a fresh shoulder injury.
Supported Hero’s Pose: Take a belt and make the loop a bit wider than your shoulders. Place the loop on your wrists with the arms behind your back (make sure to adjust loop so there is no strain in the shoulders).
Press out into the strap and focus your attention on broadening the upper chest, keep the front of the shoulder lifted while the back of the shoulder descends. You may be able to move the arms back in space after a few breaths but do not let the shoulders round forward. (This can also be done standing.)
Take 10-12 deep breaths with the focus on widening the ribs out to the sides of the room. Note: the ribs do not pop forward.
Modified Puppy Pose: Place two blocks in front of you on the medium height (this also works with a stack of books). Place your elbows on the blocks and adjust the kneeling position so your hips are a few inches behind your knees (it’s not child’s pose – keep the hips off the heels).
Let the head and neck extend between the arms (ears stay in line with the arms), and press the elbows gently into the blocks (palms can be together here) while pulling the hips back in space.
A key action here is to not drop the belly to the floor but rather lift it up and away, move your sitz bones to your heels giving the sensation of ‘cat’ pose of the lower back. This will help open the side chest and those big muscles that lie on the back called the Latissumus Dorsi, a.ka., the lats.
Take 10-12 deep breaths here with the focus on breathing into the back body.
Pec Stretch at the Wall. Stand sideways next to wall. You may need to adjust how close (or far) you are from the wall, depending on your shoulder flexibility. Let the elbow bend 90 degrees and keep the elbow in line with shoulder (it can always go higher if needed but do not take it lower). To deepen this stretch, you can rotate your body away from the wall. Be aware you don’t jut the chin forward, or pop your ribs out.
Take 10 – 12 breaths here with the focus on breathing into the side of the chest that is feeling the stretch.
Parvritta Janusirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose): Extend one leg out to the side, and draw the other into the groin. When you sit on the floor, if your lower back is rounding, sit up on a blanket. If your shin and/or knee of the bent leg is floating off the floor, place a block or second blanket under it for support. The only floating limbs here are the arms. Make sure the legs are grounded to the floor.
Take this one in steps.
1. Sit up nice and tall.
2. Spin the chest so it’s directly in line with the bent knee
3. Raise both arms up into the air
4. Side bend towards the straight leg.
See how the same arm of the straight leg side comes to the floor for support – extend the top arm alongside the cheek opening up through the side body.
Take 5-7 deep breaths here focusing on opening up the entire side body that’s being stretched.
Supported Fish: You can do this with one or two blankets rolled or folded. You want the blankets to support the thoracic spine (the upper chest).
Catch your shoulder blades at the top of the blanket and then gently roll yourself back so that the back of your skull connects with the floor. Adjust the thickness of the blanket if you feel like you are straining anywhere. Keep the knees bent in this variation. It will help keep the lower back released and allow the diaphragm to move down towards the lower abdomen as you inhale.
Take 12-15 deep breaths here focusing on ribs expanding out in all directions.
Note: Roll to the side to come up out of this pose so you don’t strain in your neck.
Now that you’re sitting up, just notice if you feel less tension in the shoulders, neck or jaw. How’s your breath? Less strained, more quiet? You can do this practice anytime you are feeling tense or tired. Happy Breathing!