My strength is made perfect in weakness
2 Corinthians 12:9
Back breathing has been on my radar these days. A few weeks ago I got a great belly laugh watching a comedian talking about yoga and back breathing. When a yoga teacher asked him to back breath he surmised that his entire life was "F'ed up because he had been breathing in his face" The set was hilarious but underneath it there really was a sense of him thinking "what the hell is this teacher talking about?" Confusion around back breath is a conversation that just keeps popping up. I was recently privileged to share some yoga at my husbands workplace. Secretly ecstatic really to yogify him any way I can, right?! But this class led to a long conversation on our evening walk in which I really tried to break down back breath into logical easy steps. I really wanted this concept to make sense to my better half. And I think I came up with concepts that shed some light on it for him. But my inquiry didn't end there. And, of course, as I continue to explore back breath I know I may serve someone like my hubby along this journey but the lessons here are for me. My path to the back has been littered with the ruts of my stubbornness and the boulders of resistance but I'm finally here and as I inhabit my back I know this is just another journey of surrender.
It might be helpful to try to dig a little deeper into that evening walk discussion. To even allow for back breath it helps to realize that a great deal (something like 70%) of our lung capacity is in our back. Then we must be engaged in a lifestyle that allows for a supple back and just as we know we can consciously flex or stretch our biceps we must know that we can consciously move our back muscles. It occurred to me that for millions of people with chronic back pain and frozen posterior muscles back breath may not be available to them without ALOT of work. But, lets assume your back is supple and you can expand the muscles. Then back breathing is about awareness, intention and energy. This powerful trio, of course, all turned towards our backs. But even with all of these building blocks in place there is another big reason back breathing may not be within reach.
Back breathing is a practice of somatic surrender. It is entirely too easy to manipulate and control the breath in the front of our bodies. Everyday I see belly muscles distend and clench with the excessive enthusiasm of a forceful breathing yogi. We can valve our throats and shoot streams of carbon dioxide out of alternating nostrils. We huff and puff in the front of our body as our conditioned mind holds tight to control. No wonder ancient yoga sutras warn us that breathwork can lead to insanity. But, I digress, lets get back to the back. Have you ever tried to breath forcefully into your back? I'm giving it another shot as I sit here typing and it almost makes me laugh at the futility of forcing our backs to breath. This is because the back only expands by softening, spreading, releasing, relaxing. In short:surrendering. Usually I teach the "letting go" practice by having students relax hands and jaws because these are more accessible. Letting go of the back is some deep level letting go. Especially standing when the long cable like erector muscles that run up either side of the spine must keep us erect! In standing postures the practice of letting go in the back is really of practice of finding middle ground. On the floor the practice of letting go of the back is more accessible as we think of our back muscles spreading like an expanding puddle. A letting go practice is challenging enough, but then layer on the fact that our back muscles hold a lot of the tensions that we "don't want to look at". This letting go requires patience, compassion and skill.
I thought I would be able to wrap this blog up with a tidy bow for you, but my inquiry is on going, My surrender, repetitive and imperfect. The layers of this practice tantalizingly deep. But this I do know: being truly at home in our bodies includes occupying every single inch with compassionate awareness. We must place our loving attention on our faithful bodies from the surface to the depths and all over from the crown of our heads to the soles of our feet, frontbody and back. Leave no part of yourself behind as you make your way home. We can be there for one another when we have our own backs. So stand tall yogis, breath deep and peace to you on the path...