Block Breathing’s Got Your Back: A Guide to Practicing This Postural Breathing Technique
Have you ever noticed the fact that our breathing is three-dimensional?
Often in yoga, breathing and pranayama we focus on our ability to breathe in the front of our body. Noticing the movements related to our breathing in our belly, chest, and front of our ribcage. But what about the fact that we are also breathing with the support of muscles and movement in the sides and back of our body?
Perhaps due to the fact that its hard to see our own back, its often an area of the body that we pay little attention to unless we have pain there. And particularly when it comes to our breathing it can feel challenging to feel the movement of our breath in the back.
If you’ve never spent much time exploring the breath in the back of your body or if you suffer from backpain then block breathing might be an interesting postural breathing technique to start practicing.
You can follow my guided YouTube video on exploring block breathing or read on further to learn more about the technique.
What is Block Breathing?
Block breathing is a simple breathing technique (pranayama) that is done with the help of a yoga block against your back.
This pranayama exercise focuses on two main areas:
Sensing and improving your physical posture.
Feeling and increasing your breath capacity in the back of your lungs.
It is useful to help explore the movements associated with breathing in the muscles of your upper, middle, and lower back, and back of your lungs. Block breathing is also a great postural technique that will help you to bring awareness to the natural positioning of your back and support you in sitting more upright.
By practicing consistently it will help you to learn how to sit comfortably and in stillness for longer periods of time. This focus on postural breathing will help to prepare you for other seated pranayama and meditation practices.
Block breathing focuses on observing and expanding your breath capacity. As well as being a tool that you can use to focus and work on your ability to concentrate for longer amounts of time.
It’s also interesting to mention that this pranayama technique could be used to help reduce lower back pain. Some studies have shown that the strength of respiratory muscles can be increased through breath therapy exercises. This can be helpful to reduce the amount of lower back pain because people suffering from non-specific lower back pain are more prone to diaphragm fatigue.
How to Do the Block Breathing Exercise
Follow the below instructions to set up and practice block breathing.
Setting Up Your Posture
For block breathing you want to place the block just below the back of the shoulders and middle back. And then lean a little towards the wall.
As you’re getting set up in position you might try and notice if your pelvis is tilted a bit forward (meaning you have a noticeable arch in your back) or if your pelvis is titled a bit back (meaning you feel your back is a bit rounded). Do your best then to sit comfortably somewhere in the middle with a straight spine and the block resting against the wall.
It might take a few experiments of trying out the positioning of your body and block to really get comfortable with the positioning of your hips. So feel free to play around with how far you are from the wall and how much your pelvis tilts forward or back.
You can then place again the block against your mid-back. You want to feel the block just below the back of your shoulder blades and all the way down to the back of your rib cage.
If it's the first time you’re doing this block breathing technique it might feel a little strange to begin with. Once you've found your position you can rest your hands on the thighs and start to softly close your eyes.
Notice if there is any tension in your legs due to you actively pressing the block into the wall. If this is happening see, as best as you can, if you can release the tension from the legs and keep your posture upright.
The Breathing Technique
Start by breathing slowly in and out through your nose. As you're inhaling you might feel your back expand a little and then as you’re exhaling you might feel your back contract back again.
We're going to take around 15 breaths where we're going to be sitting here and counting an equal length inhale and exhale. And then we're going to take an additional 15 breaths without counting and instead being a bit more focused on these sensations of the block in the back of the body.
So choosing a count that feels like it fits your capacity of breath. That might be a slow count of 4, 5 or 6. And inhaling for a count of 1-2-3-4-5 and then exhaling for a count of 1-2-3-4-5.
Keep counting and working on balancing your inhale and exhale for 15 rounds. Seeing if we can also use the count maybe to help stretch our breath a little. So we're lengthening and deepening the breath.
If you do start to notice a natural pause occurring at the top of the inhale and the bottom of the exhale you can kind of just allow that pause to be there.
And then we're going to shift now to another 15 rounds of breath without counting. So you're keeping still roughly the same rhythm as you did before of the breath but focusing your awareness on those sensations in the back of the body breathing into the block.
What to Focus Your Attention On
See if you can notice—while breathing in and out—can you feel all four corners of the block equally? Is there maybe one part where you're not really feeling? Do you feel the sensation of expansion and contraction of the breath?
Can you maybe feel and explore your breathing from the back of your body as your back muscles expand out to your block?
Every now and again you might again just adjust your posture since this is a postural technique. We are learning to sit in stillness. So see if you can find a stable position.
If you notice that your posture is kind of dropping and your relaxing a little bit too much. See if you can allow the spine still to be long. You might lengthen the arms a little without letting the shoulders drop up too much. And if you start to feel again tension creeping into your legs can you allow them to soften and be heavy?
Remembering that it’s a natural occurrence for your mind to wander away from the technique during your practice.
So each time you notice that your thoughts are elsewhere you can just carefully focus your awareness back towards breathing into the block and observing the sensations.
Finishing the Exercise
At the end of these 30 rounds of breath you can use the help of your hands to just take the block away from your back.
Taking just a few rounds to sit in stillness and keep breathing slowly without the block being there. This can feel quite freeing after taking that block away.
Just staying here a little longer observing your breath and your posture.
You can relax your arms a little if you like here now. Gently letting the breath relax, come back to a natural breath. And then at the end of your next breath, you can gently open your eyes once more again.
Don’t Have a Block Available?
The nice thing about using a block is that it is relatively hard and firm. Allowing you to really feel the block pressing into your back and be able to focus on your back expanding into the four corners of the block.
If you don't have a block but want to try this breathing exercise out you can try using something else to rest against your back and a wall.
You could try with a rolled-up yoga mat, a folded towel or blanket. Or if you have no props at all try simply sitting against the wall.
Tips for Practice
There's a lot going on with your posture in this block breathing exercise.
So if when you practice this your legs fall asleep I would recommend to really take the time to experiment with different ways of sitting.
This way you will find that during the practice you can be focused in on the technique rather than getting distracted by the feeling that your legs have lost feeling or that your posture feels uncomfortable.
Like with any new technique its useful to repeat quite a few times to really understand and integrate the practice.
You could perhaps try practicing block breathing 2-3 times a week. This could be as a separate practice or at the start or end of your yoga practice.
By taking the time to focus in for a period of time on this one technique it will help you get the time to get really familiar with the practice and be able to focus on the subtleties of your back breathing and posture.
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