I’m a couple weeks away from “D” day (Delivery day) and physically pregnancy has been a gift. First trimester aside, I am still teaching multiple classes per week, I can walk for several miles, and I sit on the floor to eat meals and am able to get up with the same level of ease as before pregnancy.
But there are modifications that I’ve made in order to account for my ever growing “bump.” Also, in the first trimester I needed much more rest than usual. So I scaled back on commitments and tapped into some deeply constructive rest methods–specifically, breathing techniques that work the body’s main respiratory muscle, the diaphragm, to help boost proprioception and induce constructive rest.
Anatomy alert! The diaphragm is the key respiratory muscle, and is in charge of approximately 75% of our breathing capabilities (the external intercostal muscles contribute to about 25% of respiration). The diaphragm is a broad, dome-like shaped muscle that attaches to the ribs and lumbar spine. During inhalation the muscle fibers contract and the dome like shape descends as the ribs widen. Upon exhalation, the muscle ascends and the ribs narrow and this process is usually quite visible.
In Yoga Tune Up® we explore the following three abodes of breath:
- Clavicular breath is when the chest moves quite noticeably upon inhalation. Observing people during times of stress (i.e. hunched shoulders, shallow breath, chest moving but not much else) allows us to observe clavicular breath. Worth noting is that this form of breath has become the standard way of breathing, at the expense of other abodes.
- The second abode is known as the thoracic breath, which recruits the diaphragm a little more and you can observe movement of the rib cage is it moves right to left. This breath is particularly helpful during poses where there is little room for full belly breaths (think child’s pose).
- Abdominal breath is the most relaxing, and uses the diaphragm’s fuller range of motion as the muscle plunges deeper down. One way to recruit this type of breath is to recall to mind a time when you were in bed just before falling asleep and your belly was so soft, no need for “sucking in” or bracing or even shaping the breath. Try abdominal abode of breath with me by watching this belly breath video.
Lying down (Savasana) legs and arms outstretched. Place one hand on your belly and the other rest it easily on your ribs so that the shoulders can relax. Spend just a moment settling into this rest position, then intentionally shape the direction of your breath by inhaling so that your belly expands first, ascending toward the ceiling. Allow this breath to “fill up” so that you can feel the motion of your ribs move under your other hand. And exhale. Continue at your own pace for five more breaths.
During the abdominal abode of breath our bellies are completely relaxed and have the ability to inflate with each exhale…usually. But in practice, many students tend to tighten their bellies and widen their ribcage on each inhale. We have misplaced our ability to move our midsection naturally with our breath.
So do try practicing the abdominal abode of breath to help reset and deeply connect to conscious relaxation. Of this comes effortlessly to you, congrats! For hundreds of students I have worked with, this breath escapes them. Among these are athletes, people who are physically “fit” etc. So take a minute, try this breath reset and, if it seems to elude you, keep practicing. If it comes easily, try practicing it while standing, then while walking and going about your everyday activities, observing when you start to tighten or “suck in” your belly again.
Remember that whatever physical situation you are facing right now, there are some relevant tools to help you in your process. The belly breath and down regulation practice during my pregnancy has helped to keep me in tune. Enjoy practicing with your own natural respiration!