Month two of my Iyengar training program is under way and in January, I attended a Clay and Anatomy workshop taught by Marcy Schafler. In this class we were exposed to a 3-D look at anatomy where we molded clay into muscle shapes and applied them onto the corresponding area of skeletal manikins. We discussed the origin, action and insertion points of these muscles, in addition to reviewing extension and rotation, then we practiced poses to help internalize our new found learning. One of the most powerful teaching tools Marcy used throughout the workshop was the use of imagery in all her instruction. Needless to say, I learned a wealth of information from this class, but the most meaningful piece of imagery occurred inside a 10-minute conversation during our break.
Just before the break, a question was asked about the exact location of the lungs in the body. While Marcy was showing us, she made a passing comment about the distance between our mouth (where we inhale) and our lungs. It was an interesting visual reference since the space between the two seemed further than I had thought. It then occurred to me that the space between the mouth and lungs could and should be filled with air, but this does not happen automatically by just breathing in. In order for it to happen, I need to actively bring my breath down the length of my full chest cavity and into my lower abdomen. Ah Ha! This is the reason that my breath often feels shallow, I am stopping short on the inhale. A small group of us began talking about breathing and Marcy mentioned that people with asthma, anxiety and attention deficit often have shallow breathing. She suggested that we begin to visualize breathing into a straw. This can assist in the sensation of bringing the breath down into the lower parts of the chest cavity and as far down as the pelvis making it less likely that the air will be confined to the upper chest.
For the past two weeks I have consciously been breathing either literally through a straw, or visualizing this technique while breathing. I count 5 or 6 breaths on the inhale, visualizing the expansion and inflation both in the front and back of my body, like wings. My exhale is typically longer by 2 or 3 counts than the inhale. The image of the exhale is blowing out candles and releasing stale air. The changes and benefits of this full breathing have been remarkable and immediate. The most extraordinary change is that I no longer eat as much at meal time. I do not need as much food because I am filled with more air! It feels as though there is literally only so much room for food. I have spent most of my life filling up with food when what I really needed, what my body needed, was to breath. Go, figure! My cravings for sugar have also dramatically decreased. I would have never thought that my body has been starving for oxygen all these years. Instead I was busy focusing on what vitamins I needed, or if I had a thyroid problem or if I needed more cardio, less dairy, more meditation, less wheat, more water, and on and on and on.
I am now more aware of my breathing than ever. I have noticed little things like holding my breath when I am in a hurry, and my breathing more shallow when I am busy and overwhelmed. The beautiful thing about breath work is that you can practice the techniques any time and any place. I have been breathing through my imaginary straw in the car, the grocery line, walking the dog and sitting at my kitchen table. I am grateful to finally have access to my full breath and for the willingness to be a beginner. - Robin Muskal
Robin Muskal has a Doctorate in clinical psychology and has trained and worked as a psychotherapist, body worker, and energy practitioner for l5 years. Robin works with individuals on a range of mental health and quality of life concerns. In the late 80’s, Robin began her yoga practice at the Kripalu Yoga Center and has spent many years since exploring different yoga, prana, and meditation methodologies. After stumbling on an Iyengar class, Robin felt ready to pursue this style of yoga and has recently begun the Yoga Teacher Preparation Course. She is thrilled to be in a place in her life to receive the benefits of Iyengar yoga and through the use of guided meditation, breathing exercises, cognitive behavioral interventions, body psychotherapy and other techniques, Robin can help her client’s to experience a balanced flow of energy in the body and mind. Robin has a private practice in Morristown, NJ.