Breath to Support Stillness in Your Yoga Practice: Back Bends and Forward Folds

We’ve been looking at how your breath supports your movement in your workouts—see “The Right Breath for Now,” “Breath to Support Movement,” “Breath to Support Movement in Your Yoga Practice,” and “Breath to Support Stillness in Your Yoga Practice: Balance and Twists.” Let’s look at how the breath relates to the movement of your spine forward and back.

Breath and Backbends

Use inhalations to extend your spine even longer.
Use inhalations to extend your spine even longer.

In general, we use inhalations to support lifting actions. This holds true in backbends, as well. A full inhalation will decrease the curve of your thoracic spine, extending your back. As you hold a backbend like the chest lift depicted here, notice the sensation of length that rides on every breath in, and try to maintain it as you breathe out.

Breath and Forward Folds

Use exhalations to help you settle in forward folds.
Use exhalations to help you settle in forward folds.

As the spine moves forward, exhalations become your friend. As you hold a forward fold, you’ll notice that every breath in floats you slightly up, then every breath out will settle you deeper. Notice that exhalations can encourage you to round your upper and mid-back. Be careful with this movement, as too much forward flexion can be rough on the spine and disks. Keeping a longer spine is generally a good idea—even if that means you don’t fold very far forward.

—Sage

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Sage Rountree

Sage Rountree is author of six books on yoga for athletes, most recently Everyday Yoga.

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