Sequence Wednesdays: Lung support
Ha! I bet you long time Supportive Readers (hi! I love you) thought I forgot about Sequence Wednesdays! Nope! Now that I have lots of time on my hands before I get people to hire me to teach yoga, I thought I’d see if I could bring the series back. Also, if you’ve been following me on facebook, you know that I have been flattened by the pollen plague. A horrible cough, sniffles and asthma have been my companions for the past week and I’m getting really sick (ahem) of it. I’ve been doing a lot of yoga both at home and at studios, and at home, I’ve been concentrating on trying to alleviate my symptoms and to give my poor abused lungs a break.
I’m calling this a sequence, but really it’s a bunch of poses that I’ve found can help with lung issues that I’ve tried over the past few days that I wanted to share with you. You can do all of them at once if you want, in whatever order feels natural but you’ll have to see which ones make you feel better and which ones are sort of meh or that one doesn’t work for me. There are a couple of guiding principles here though – I wanted to work on opening up the chest and the upper back, the side and back body and to stimulate the lung points (right underneath your trapezius muscles). I also wanted to make sure that I didn’t constrict my breathing too much in my forward bend and twist.
I started and ended this practice the same way. A simple seated pose (in this case, virasana – hero’s pose, on a block) with one hand resting on my heart and one hand resting on my belly. This is a fabulous posture to check in with your breath. Try to breathe into both hands as calmly as possible, which I understand might feel impossible in the throes of pollen plague. Give yourself a few minutes to simply be before you get into anything more complicated.
Next, I’d warm up the spine and shoulders in sphinx, baby cobra and full cobra. Move through one or all three of these poses as you feel ready for them. When I injured my back a couple of months ago, I did a lot of cobras in physical therapy and really came to appreciate the pose for it’s wonderful back body opening properties.
For an intense, but longer held back body and shoulder opener, try supported fish pose. I covered this pose very early on in the blog with a bolster underneath your shoulders. For this sequence, I used a block instead. It’s more intense and active, but I do like it. I put a smaller block underneath my head so I wasn’t in what my teacher, Stephanie, called “decapitation mode”. I stole the first version in the photos below from her – you keep your hands underneath your head and your head lifted. It also helps make the block set up visible. You need to make sure your neck isn’t crunched or doing the work to hold you up – keep your core engaged! In the second photo, I am resting my head on the pink block and letting everything go. Hang out here for as long as feels good, but I wouldn’t push it more than 5 minutes or so.
A lot of resources recommended bridge pose (salamba setubandasana) but since that pose is still a “boobs in face” situation for me, it doesn’t really facilitate deep breathing. Instead, I have included a modified purvotanasana (incline plank) using a chair, which I think does the job without being an issue for me. Though I find this version easier than unsupported purvotanasana, it definitely isn’t easy, so please proceed with caution. Also, it’s very important to have your chair on a mat because you do not want it moving at all or flying out from under you. Start seated on the very edge of the chair with your hands holding onto the sides. Press down with your hands and lift your hips up. The first stage is done with the knees bent. Stay with that, or try straightening your legs.
In addition to opening up the front and back body, it is important to stretch the side body as well. My favorite side body stretch is parighasana (gate pose). Start from kneeling, then extend one leg out to the side. Your foot can point straight out or forward or somewhere in between. Raise your arms up and place your right hand on your right leg and reach your left arm over your ear. Repeat on the other side. If your knees are cranky, place a blanket underneath them on the mat.
Forward bending might not feel good at all – especially if you are in the midst of an asthma attack. But, if you are feeling up to a forward bend, I really like prasarita padotanasana in this case because I don’t feel any compressing of my chest into my legs like I would in utanasana for instance. I can maintain a flat back all the way down so I can use this pose to really breathe into my back body. Note that my hands are in line with my feet and my elbows are in like I was in chaturanga. If you can’t get down so far, no problem, just stay in stage two (middle photo) and relax your head.
Same goes for twists. If any amount of compression isn’t working for you (your breath gets shorter or you feel panicked), skip this next posture. It felt ok for me, so I went for it. Twists can help make space in your body for the breath to flow once you release out of them, so I think it is beneficial. My favorite closed twist is a hybrid of ardha matsyandrasana and marichyasana. Sit with your legs extended out in front of you and pull one knee into your chest. Extend the opposite arm towards the ceiling and then wrap it around your knee, twisting toward the bent knee. Your other arm will rest behind you for support and leverage.
If you are craving an inversion. Chair headstand is a great one for the lungs because you place most of your weight on your trapezius muscles. In Chinese medicine (disclaimer: I know very little about this – just enough to be dangerous), your lung points are just underneath your traps. So this pose stimulates them. Every little bit helps! I have a video showing you how to set up and get into this pose, but, as with all inversions, please try this with a qualified teacher first!
Finally, end how you began. Sitting quietly and listening to your breath. Notice any changes (hopefully good changes!)
Please let me know if you have any questions or if there are any poses in the sequence you’d like me to cover in more depth in a subsequent blog post. Happy practicing and happy spring!