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breathing exercises

Balancing the Bandhas Through the Breath

In my last article about the breath, I wrote about the importance of contacting our inherent impulse to breath, and allowing ourselves to be breathed, rather than following an external or mental cue.  This exercise is no different, but it takes a little bit more refined focus and it builds off of the last exercise.

The Bandhas in Yoga, or “locks” (as in locks in a river) refer to the horizontal membranes of the body that provide containment and regulate the pressure of the different cavities of our bodies (our guts, lungs, heart and brains).

Where are they? 
The major diaphragms of the body are the respiratory diaphragm, the pelvic floor (muscles between your tailbone and pubic bone), the base of the throat, the base of the skull -at the level of the ear lobes (including the roof of the mouth and base of the eyes), the top of the head, and also the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.  The joints of the body are also diaphragms.

Why the Bandhas are important… 
When we are having trouble breathing, or our limbs are stiff or weak, it is often reflected by in how our breath moves through our bodies.  For example, if you puff up your chest you will notice that the base of your throat and your respiratory diaphragm have to tighten to retain the pressure in your ribs that allows you to puff up. These pressure regulators also have a dramatic effect on blood pressure, oxygen delivery to the cells, stress on the heart and overall health.  If they are too tight oxygenated blood isn’t able to reach the tissue and if they aren’t toned at all, there isn’t enough pressure to squeeze the blood back to the heart and we tend to feel sluggish. Balanced tone in the diaphragms leads to longer more balanced breathing and a lot less stress on the heart. When we are feeling our best, our diaphragms are gently pulsating between contraction and release to allow a smooth flow of energy through our bodies.

Ready to feel amazing? 
Lie on your back and notice your breath.  Allow your breath to come and go, without changing anything about it.  As you tune in, you may start to notice that when you inhale, all of the diaphragms naturally contract, and on the exhale, they all tend to release. Without changing anything about your breath, see if you can tune into the softening quality of the exhale.  As you begin to inhale see if you can continue to soften your diaphragms.  Since they all move together, you won’t actually have to focus on all of them to receive the benefits of this exercise.

At first see if you can bring your attention to just one or two at a time or try checking in with different diaphragms as you breath.  With practice, you will be able to open your attention to all of the diaphragms at once.  Just be sure you aren’t forcing your breath, either breathing harder or speeding your breath up or slowing it down.  Just let it flow naturally in response to the effects of your attention on the bandhas.

The overall effect of this exercise is that it will begin to feel as if your whole body is breathing, as if your lungs extend all the way from your fingers, to your toes and out to the top of your head, every cell expanding and contracting.  If this is easy, try the exercise sitting or standing. I hope you enjoy the experience.

A word of caution.
Big emotions can often come up when working with the breath.  If you begin to feel overwhelmed or even just light headed, take a break, this exercise should ideally make you feel more connected to yourself and more at ease.