Connecting breath to movement is a core aspect of yoga practice, and we explored the basics of how to do this in the second article in this series, “Breath: Transforming Movement into Yoga.” When we are able to make this connection without straining the breath, we tap into a deeper, more meaningful experience of pranic awareness. Once we have experienced what it means to truly move with the breath, we can refine our approach with different types of breath-connected movement. It helps to consider the unique qualities of both inhalation and exhalation and how these relate to various types of movement. Inhalation has naturally nourishing, filling, lengthening, and expansive qualities, which fit movements with similar qualities, while exhalation is inherently cleansing, emptying, and contractive. The fundamental types of breath-connected movement are as follows:
Lifting and Lowering
We lift with the inhalation and lower with the exhalation. When we harness the upward movement of the inhalation, it feels right to inhale as we lift and then to exhale as we lower. For example, we lift the arms overhead as we inhale and lower them alongside the body as we exhale.
Opening and Closing
Opening is supported by the naturally expansive qualities of the inhalation, while closing happens with the exhalation. For example, we open the arms out to the sides horizontally as we inhale and bring the palms together in front of us as we exhale.
Releasing and Engaging
Deep engagement and contraction align with the emptying quality of the exhalation, while releasing that engagement and softening happen effectively when aligned with the spacious experience of inhalation. For example, we lift and draw up through the muscles of the pelvic floor with the exhalation and fully release that engagement with the inhalation.
Rotating and Lengthening
Deep internal rotation is facilitated by the natural inward movement of the exhalation, and lengthening within that deep internal rotation is supported by the inhalation. For example, we move into a spinal twist with the exhalation and then lengthen within the twist with the inhalation.
Drawing Inward and Expanding Outward
While similar to releasing and engaging, this concept is slightly different and more subtle. Drawing deeply in toward a center point is guided by the exhalation, while expanding from that deep center point happens naturally with the inhalation. This center point is both physical and non-physical. For example, we squeeze the navel in deeply toward the inner spine with the exhalation, and then from that deep, physical and non-physical center point, we expand outward and create space with the inhalation.
As we continue to explore various types of breath-connected movement, we may notice that some of these recommendations do not feel natural for us. This may be a sign of imbalance in the way we breathe, and it could prove helpful to revisit the yogic breathing essentials we covered in the previous article, “Breath: Transforming Movement into Yoga.” However, there are some types of movement that may feel equally supported by inhalation and exhalation. It can be valuable to explore these movements on our own in a curious and even playful way to make the experience more personal. As we continue this exploration, we will see that breath-connected movement becomes more and more subtle. Eventually it supports deep, breath-connected stillness that forms a nourishing foundation for meditation.