‘Forward Breathing’

(C) Mandy Meaden

Several years ago, I began using the term Breath4Health to describe a methodology I developed, based on the teachings of Mr Desikachar, to help people improve their breathing.  However, the term Breath4Health doesn’t really describe this breathing methodology, so starting to use the term forward breathing.  What I have started to call forward breathing is forward in at least three senses of the word:

  1. Forward breathing calls upon the student to sense and feel the flow of the breath and the expense of the body in this natural direction that is top downwards. The reverse is true for the outflow.  This must be felt first below the navel, and finally at the top of the body.  Whilst for many people there is a need, in the beginning, to focus on expanding the abdomen, to progress further, people will need to learn in time to expand from the top.  Progress over time can start from the abdomen, work up to the ribs and then into the chest, but a single full in-breath needs to start from the top.
  2. Forward breathing promotes expansion on inhalation to be also in a forward direction that is “inhale forward of the heart”, followed by a forward expansion of the abdomen. Sideways rib expansion is also to be encouraged, especially in pregnancy.  However, expansion backwards is not considered helpful, since due to spinal flexion it induces more closure in front than it gains space at the back.  It’s worth noting that animals, on all fours, don’t breathe into their backs.  They carry their spines in extension, creating space for their internal organs.
  3. Forward breathing may also be considered progressive in the sense that it provides a direction and framework for progress. Within yoga, this leads first to prāṇāyāma and then to inversions.  For the beginner, forward breathing provides an arc of progress from tense and restricted breathing towards complete and relaxed breathing.  Slow exhalation from the abdomen is the first thing to be established, then sideways expansion of the ribs and finally forward expansion of the breastbone and even the collarbones.  Again, these are the building blocks for progress with the breath, not the sequence of an individual breath.

Another advantage of forward breathing and the way that we teach it is that practising this over time, people gain flexibility in the trunk of the body.  On exhalation, the abdominal area folds, helping the lower back to go into flexion.  On inhalation, the rib cage expands, allowing better access to postures like Cobra.  And developing side expansion and contraction means that practising side bends and twists is not so dependent on movement in the hips and other joints.

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