Space to breathe
Practicing yoga outside
I’ve recently returned from my annual jaunt around the west coast of Scotland, one of my most favourite places to visit, a place where I can find great peace, giving me a chance to re-calibrate and recharge. I love the energy of a wild natural landscape and you get it all on the west coast of Scotland – sea, mountains, lochs and glens, and plenty of weather! It’s the perfect place for yoga and meditation al fresco.
One of the aspects of this environment that very much resonates with me is the sense of space. Here I have the space I need to let go, to think and to not think and just be still. In my next couple of blogs I’d like to discuss space and spaciousness and its importance both on and off the yoga mat.
If you’ve been to my classes then you’ll know that many of my instructions are linked to spaciousness. Let’s take a look at a few of those prompts. During the asana (physical postures) part of the class, I often invite you to focus on lengthening the spine, putting space between the vertebrae. This is particularly great for the physical health of your spine, allowing the tiny muscles either side of your vertebrae to do their work ie lifting your spine upwards (think of yourself more as an Eiffel Tower structure rather than a Golden Gate Bridge), taking the pressure off the vertebral discs. This upward movement also allows you to then move your spine optimally, as the plumped discs provide cushioning, allowing for freedom of movement, which is how your spine has been designed to function.
Sometimes, I will be more directive about where I would like you to focus on space – perhaps at the back of the waist, or separating hips from ribs. This is usually to help you relax into a deeper posture. We tend to get stuck in a pose when we are unable to lengthen and then move from that expansive space. Where there is discomfort or pain there will always be constriction and tightness (good to remember this teaching for all aspects of life, not just during asana practice!). If we can breathe into an area, allow it to expand, opening the space, then the area is far more likely to release, relax and move. Plus, when the spine is lengthening it is also more likely to be in correct alignment, allowing the free flow of energy from base to crown chakra – a prmiary goal of yoga asana. As in the physical body, if we are constricted around a chakra, there is often discomfort or pain, physical or emotional.
Dru Yoga is especially fantastic at opening the area of the heart chakra, anahata. We are so often hunched up or over that it’s great to be reminded to open this area up, so I often ask you to expand and create space in the centre of the chest as we work on physically opening the chest area. The expansion not only releases tightness in the physical body, but it can also provide emotional release, opening us up to love, joy and compassion. This idea of expansion works for all the chakras, by the way, with different outcomes. Listen to where I ask you to create space when we’re doing our yoga and you’ll soon work out which chakra each posture is focussing on!
Another reason we focus on space in yoga is that we give ourselves space to breathe, both physically and metaphorically. Yoga encourages us to breathe correctly, ie feeling the tummy rise with the inhalation, fall with the exhalation, giving the diaphragm the space it needs to move and the lungs plenty of space to expand in to. Breathing deeply into the abdomen slows the breath down, which in turn slows us down. This breathing space is where we can find peace and clarity.
Give yourself some space right now. Take some time out to be still. Lie down, sit up or stand tall. Let the breath settle, deepening into the abdomen. Imagine the breath flowing up the spine, expanding, creating space with each inhalation, relaxing with the exhalation. Put some space between the vertebrae, allowing that sense of spaciousness to permeate every cell of your being…