Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Breath and the Ball Gown

Several lifetimes ago (I mean professional lives, not karmic ones) I was a volunteer costumer at the University of Texas opera department where I spent many hours crouched over a sewing machine, hemming gigantic ball gowns and rushing to meet deadlines. This led to a very snarled up right shoulder, so I began getting regular massages to work out the kinks. The masseur worked with my sister at a local bakery, so he was very good at kneading…he also had some great advice. He suggested I tape a post-it to my sewing machine with a single word, BREATHE, written on it. It was a wonderful reminder to slow down, sit up and relax; it didn’t cure my shoulder completely, but it certainly helped.

I’ve been writing about fine-tuning poses, but one thing I always come back to in my yoga classes is the importance of aligning the spine and allowing the breath to release any tension in the back and shoulders. It seems like a simple exercise, but it is very easy to forget your posture when juggling the demands of the day. Just now, take a second to notice where your sit bones are in relationship to your hips/shoulders/ears. Line each of those landmarks up and notice how much taller you are and how much more space is in the chest. Now take a deep breath and let the shoulders drop away from the ears and feel the neck lengthen. You should immediately feel a bit calmer and more comfortable; that extra gust of oxygen in the lungs is a power force that can instantly start lowering the blood pressure and releasing tensed muscles.

Try to take advantage of this force every time you start to feel slouchy, tired or grumpy. The full lungful of air helps clear the mind and the tall spine allows the newly oxygenated blood to circulate freely throughout the torso. I can’t promise that you will immediately jump up and save the world (or meet your deadline, or finish the soprano’s gown), but you will be more focused and can clearly deal with the task at hand. BREATHE.

3-Part Breathing

This is one of my favorite breathing exercises. It can calm you in a tense situation. It can help you to settle down and go to sleep. I’ve even used it to pre-empt an asthma attack.

1. Find a comfortable position so that every part of your body is supported. You can be sitting upright in an over-stuffed chair or lying on the floor. Just make sure you can completely release yourself into the surface you are resting on. Take time to find this released point, so you no longer need to think about any part of your physical body. Close your eyes.
-Some meditation practices recommend covering the eyes with a gentle weight, such as a folded towel or beanbag, as the gentle pressure can be very calming. Give it a try if you are having trouble quieting your thoughts.

2. Begin to breathe comfortably and notice how the breath lengthens as you start to relax.

3. Now bring your attention to your torso as you breathe. Imagine the breath slowly filling the belly. Once the belly is full, picture the breath inflating the middle of your lungs beneath the rib cage. When the lower lungs are full, imagine that you are now filling the space beneath the breastbone. Once you have completely filled your torso with air, slowly exhale—first emptying the space beneath the breastbone and then the space behind the ribs and finally the belly.

4. Rest for a moment in the place where there is no breath and then begin the process again. Repeat a few more times and then let the breath come back to your normal rhythm. Come out of your restful position, whenever you are ready.
©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the advice about the breathe sign. I'll put one on my computer. Like your site!