Breathing and Twisting

Late in November 2023, I attended an online seminar with David Jackson, known as Jacko, organised by Fit Pro, a UK-based membership and standard-setting organisation for fitness instructors. Jacko’s theme was the relationship between functional breathing and functional movement. Any tightness or restriction in the trunk of the body, particularly in the rib cage will restrict both breathing and movement. Mr Desikachar, when he came to the UK in 1992, pointed out the same relationship. I wouldn’t, myself, either use or teach the methods of improving flexibility that were demonstrated by Jacko, but I could see how they would fit into a routine of fitness training, rather than yoga.

The methods that I use and teach were taught to us by Mr Desikachar, together with one that was taught to me by Dr Chandrasekaran. Looked at in perspective, these two exercises, which are described in ‘Breath for Health’, are actually very similar. Mr Desikachar’s “caring breath” exercise, described in exercise 4.7, helps to mobilise the upper chest. While the one from Dr Chandrasekaran, described in exercise 2.3, works to free the lower rib cage. Both exercises involve a slight turning motion performed on inhalation.

The effect in the “caring breath” exercise is to open the upper chest forwards and sideways towards one arm that is taken out to its own side on inhalation. Dr Chandrasekaran’s exercise involves much more movement in the body. As one arm is taken to out to one side on an inhalation, the whole body moves into a gentle twist. This is consistent with there being much more rotational movement in the lower thoracic spine and the lower ribs. However, the much slighter movement in Mr Desikachar’s exercise is still very significant. As Jacko pointed out, mobility in the top of the rib cage is essential both for good posture and for maintaining full movement in the neck and shoulder area.

In teaching my Breath4Health classes, both face-to-face in the two years before the pandemic and online from March 2020, I also taught easy twists that were taken in a lying position. I will include these, when I get the chance to publish a revised and expanded version of ‘Breath for Health’.

You need to assume a crook lying position, feet hip width apart and close to your body with your arms extended sideways. After breathing in deeply, start to breathe out and lower your knees to one side, turning your face the  opposite way. Remain in this twisted position, while feeling your breath come in more strongly on the side away from your knees. During your next out breath, bring your knees up to a raised position. Asking your in breath to ease into your side ribs while your knees are turned the other way is another exercise that can gradually increase the mobility of your lower rib cage and provide your breath with more access to your lower lungs.

I have more than once been taken aback, when I observe how stiff people have allowed their bodies to become, particularly as they get older. Car drivers stop turning around to look properly when reversing, instead relying on mirrors. A long time ago, I saw graph of the decline of breathing capacity with age and the way that this to start to decline quite rapidly in people’s 60s and 70s, when they tend to become less active generally. That’s why I think that Yoga classes for the elderly have such a significant impact on older people’s quality of life. If older people can keep moving and keep breathing, I think we could see a significant reduction in later life health problems. And for younger people, who tend to spend too much time staring down at their phones, Mr Desikachar’s “caring breath” exercise could provide an essential corrective which would serve young people well, both at the time, and for the rest of their lives.

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