Monday, September 2, 2013

the shape of breath

We take on average 20,000 breaths a day. Because of this, the way we breathe is the single strongest reinforcement of postural patterns we take on in our bodies--thus, it is what creates the shape of our bodies.

The diaphragm is a flattish dome-shaped muscle that lies underneath the lungs. When we want to breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and pulls down, causing the chest to expand and the vacuum created to pull in air to fill the lungs. When we breathe shallowly, a shape of the body (barrel-chested) begins to be reinforced and the diaphragm may begin to flatten. This in turn creates less of a massaging effect by the diaphragm on the muscles and organs around it, and the result is less tonus and less ability to perform their functions.

The diaphragm interacts with a number of other horizontal structures throughout the body, acting in some cases like a lid and in others like a base in dividing the vertical lines of the body into compartments of support and energy transmission. When the diaphragm flattens or becomes less horizontal, all the other horizontal structures (the pelvic floor, thoracic outlet, and even the feet, knees, the palate in the mouth, and the tentorium--membranous structures in the head) are affected and in turn become less effective at massaging what they sandwich in the body.

I was thinking about how sometimes we get into yoga poses and are straining so much to force ourselves to look a certain way that the breath stops--or alternately, the breath becomes strained because the pose done in that way isn't correct for that particular body. The ability to breathe should become fuller if a pose is performed the way a body should perform it, because hatha yoga's intention is to horizontalize the diaphragms--to maximize the efficiency of the internal support network within the body.

Another context for the same idea: when I drive and get irked by other drivers my breathing becomes shallow--as if somehow, if I didn't breathe, I would block out the irritating thing that had just happened. But through not breathing, that's how the experience gets trapped in--and I become the irritation, because by not inhaling it in completely I don't give myself the opportunity to exhale it out. When trauma occurs, or something triggers you, breathe more deeply--and that's what creates the neutrality for the event to not stay in the body.

It comes from creating internal support. Everything we do should support the breath, and it in turn will support us.

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