Sunday, November 9, 2014

Breathing is harder than you think

Breathing is important for those with Scoliosis.  That's not to say it isn't without merit for anyone else, of course.  But breathing in a conscious, specific manner may add years to scoliosic lives.

I spent a bit of time of this subject in an earlier post, outlining "rotational breathing".  But since then I have been given some different images to try out, and have also had a year or so of practising.

Every activity I do it seems requires me to breathe in a conscious, specific manner that's different from all the other conscious, specific manners.  It's not just as simple as 'in out and forget it'.  In my singing classes I am told to breathe in so that my diaphragm extends down into my belly.  In choir (especially for the high notes!)  I add extra air to expand my lungs, which then are kept firm on the slow exhale until after the diaphragm is back under my lungs.  In yoga it is all about breathing into the belly, making a "Buddha belly".  In pilates it's about expanding the rib cage, back and sides too (i.e., lateral breathing), on each inhale through the nose, then exhaling out through the mouth with the effort of whatever exercise I happen to be doing.  For running and race walking and cycling, it's about keeping the chest fairly upright and open and breathing regularly. And for swimming it's about regulating the exhalation so that I don't run out of air. For me it is anyway.  I am the first to admit I am not a competitive swimmer!

But breathing for scoliosis requires another mental image, one that is very specific to each individual curve.  The best way to do this is in "puppy pose":

Get on your hands and knees.  Stretch your hands forward so that your torso is on a long angle, with your butt up over your heels at a 90 degree angle.

Start by squeezing out all the air in your lungs as if you are wringing a wet towel dry.  As you take a long, slow breath in, focus that breath into your concavity, the collapsed part of your back or side.  Feel the breath push that part of your body out as far as you can push it.

As you exhale the image becomes that of a spiral. Imagine the air leaving your concavity, then swirling across to the other side of your back, spiraling from your "hump" down and around to the front of your chest and out your mouth. 

As you breathe in in this way you are stretching the muscles that are not stretched enough on your concave side.  Then you are sending your breathe forward and out, depressing the overstretched high side of your back, the "hump" down and forward.

The best thing to have is a strong good friend who will stand over or behind you as you sit in puppy pose, tap or touch you on your collapsed side as you breathe into it. then as you breathe out they press hard down and forward on your other side.  This helps with the imagery, making the desired breath direction really felt. But it also helps on the exhalation to help those muscles that are overstretched to work differently.  It might look easy, but it's really not - you need to work hard to isolate specific muscles and then press down with your arms as you breathe the spiral of air out.
puppy pose from above
As habitual activity continues to promote its effects on the muscles being worked, doing 10-15 minutes of breath work every day will eventually work some muscles differently and make a positive difference to your body shape.  And this can actually make a life or death difference!

As you age your collapsed side becomes more collapsed and the twisted side becomes more humpy and twisted.  Depending on your individual curve that means that your ribcage might twist around so much that your ribs squeeze your heart, resulting in a heart attack, or your ribs might puncture a lung. 

Regular breathing exercises will work to prevent that from happening by keeping the lungs free and open, and the muscles around them strong enough to resist the pull of gravity.  And who can resist sitting in puppy pose for a quarter of an hour!

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