Restorative Practice: Observing the Movement of the Breath 1

Restorative PracticesThe theme for this month is observation of the movement that the breath creates in the body. In today’s practice we will observe the movement of the ribcage. With the exhalations, the ribs drape down the length of the body from the head towards the hips. The sternum drops towards the pubic bone and the curvature of the thoracic spine lessens. The volume inside gets smaller, the ribcage itself getting narrower and shallower.

On the inhalation the reverse happens. The ribs expand and lift towards the head. The sternum lifts, swinging up like the handle of an upright water pump. The curvature of the thoracic spine increases as does the volume inside, the ribcage itself getting wider and deeper.

The first few poses of the practice serve to release the muscles and connective tissue around the ribcage so that, in the later poses, you might more easily observe the movement.

The Sequence:

The Ribcage

Centering [1 to 3 minutes]

  • Take a few moments to gather the mind and body up into the present moment, letting go of the day that’s been and releasing any anticipation or apprehension over the day to come.
  • Become aware of the movement of the ribcage as you breath: expanding and rising with the inhalations, draping down the length of the body with the exhalations. Allow the shoulders to settle on the ribs. Observe as they rise and separate with the inhalations, observe as they sink with the exhalations.
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) on the ropes with a bolster under the head [2—3 minutes]

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart on the ropes [3-5 minutes]

Side stretch over a bolster [3 to 5 minutes each side]
  • Lie back with the bolster comfortably placed under the side body so that there is an even sweep of the torso.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) over a bolster [3 to 5 minutes]
  • Clasp the elbows and rest the arms up alongside the ears. Change the crossing of the arms at the halfway mark.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) over a bolster [3 to 8 minutes]

Parshva Bharadwajasana (Side Bharadwaja’s Pose) over a bolster [3 to 5 minutes each side]

Adho Mukha Shavasana (Downward Facing Corpse Pose) over a bolster [5 to 10 minutes]

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with sandbag along the sternum [5 minutes]
  • Lie back in Shavasana with a blanket under the head and a bolster under the knees.
  • Place a sandbag along the length of the sternum. If a sandbag is too heavy, use three or four eye pillows.
  • Observe how the sternum rises and falls with the breath. Allow the ribs to widen out away from the sternum and spine, rather than have the sternum push up into the sandbag.
Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with a belt at the level of the xyphoid process [5 minutes]
  • From the above Shavasana, slide the sandbag off the sternum. Loosely tie a belt around the rib cage at the level of the xyphoid process, the bottom of the sternum, and the lower ribs. The belt should be just tight enough to give you feedback, but not so tight as to restrict movement in any way.
  • Tune into the movement of the rib cage as you breath. Observe how the ribs expand into the belt on the inhalation and how they retreat inwards away from the belt with the exhalation.
  • Seek out any areas where the movement of the ribcage seems sluggish or bound up. Gently, with nothing more than suggestion, encourage them to soften and become free so that the movement can be even throughout the entire circumference of the belt.
Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with a belt at the level of the mid-sternum [5 minutes]
  • From the above Shavasana, slide the belt up to the level of the mid-sternum. Once again, observe the movement into and away from the belt and encourage it to be soft and even.
Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with a belt at the level of the upper sternum [5 minutes]
  • From the above Shavasana, slide the belt up into the armpits, to the top of the sternum. Once again, observe the movement into and away from the belt and encourage it to be soft and even.
Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal) [5 to 10 minutes]
  • Soften each of the sense organs individually: the skin, the tongue, the ear canals and inner ears, the nasal passages, the muscles around the eyes and the eyeballs themselves, the temples and, finally, the brain, the organizer of the senses.
Dharana (Concentration) [5 to 10 minutes]
  • Observe the thoughts as if the were objects flowing into and out of your awareness. Whenever you get caught up in a thought, acknowledge that this has happened, let the thought go and return to your observation.
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