My toddler walks around with the best body alignment; I constantly marvel at it from my hunched over position. His shoulders are back, hips in line, confidently strutting. He, along with many babes, enjoys his physicality. He walks around proud, steady, and vibrantly strong, his body aligned under him (with frequent losses of balance as a relatively novice walker). He does spontaneous yoga moves (down dog, star, lots of babies do this).
Then there is his deep belly breathing. The spontaneous, gentle, big in, big out of the little belly. The way I breathe when directed to in yoga class, but at no other time.
My little guy and his sweet posture
Perhaps his excellent posture and wonderful breathing techniques – that are clearly innate – contribute to his joyful way of being.
We learn to slouch, and this has gotten magnified by the device-world that we live in. Body alignment is important so that the organs can function at max capacity. Good posture enhances self-esteem; many studies have shown that sitting up straight boosts confidence, brain function and mood (must be fun to research). Harvard scientist Amy Cuddy gave the second most-viewed Ted talk to date. She discusses some of this research in detail (I cried – it’s good).
Be aware of the core of the body; it’s where our power comes from, literally. The solar plexus (Manipura) chakra, yellow in color, starts above the belly button and goes up to the breastbone. Warrior energy. The power of transformation. Burn-it-up pitta.
The solar plexus – physically – is a network of nerves behind the stomach. It is also the seat of intuition. How we know when something is right. Why we get “gut feelings” or sometimes feel “sick about it”. My yoga teacher tells me all the time, via DVD: “It’s important to light the naval fire everyday” (Singh, 2018). This means doing some type of core exercises to wake up that part of the body every day.
Sitting up straight originates in the pelvis.
These are the three power poses studied by Amy Cuddy (2010). Practice one of them for 2 minutes and feel the power. Cuddy wrote a book about this, called The Power of Presence; highly recommend.
Sitting up straight and engaging my core puts me in a good mood. I am more confident, I’m living in the spirit of fun. I am more powerful. And bonus: these are activities that can be multi-tasked!
How to remember to sit up straight? I ordered a Contraption that wears like a backpack; it pulls the shoulders back to move the body into alignment. I have worn it 3 times in as many years. Once of those times was today, and my husband teased. I may look dorky, but when I wear it I feel frisky. My feeling overrides any silly visual. Buoyant. Alexis on Schitt’s Creek.
Practicing yoga daily helps with body alignment for obvious reasons. At some point, the movements sink in, accumulate, and have us moving around gracefully all the time. I wax and wane with this; how naturally yogic I’m carrying myself is directly related to the amount of yoga and meditation going on. One week I may be the queen of zen and the next I am hyperventilating at work because self-care got shelved.
Wearing a special piece of jewelry that is not usually an everyday piece helps to remind me to do whatever (sit up straight, young lady). Dressing nicely and being well-groomed helps me remember to be graceful and dignified.
Wearing the posture Contraption made my back and shoulder muscles tired – muscles that are used to happily slouching over my laptop.
Deep breathing is our next ally. It can calm us down in seconds if we only remember to use it; it’s always with us. Breathing intentionally helps our bodies work like a well-oiled machines. The yogis discovered that conscious, slow, rhythmic belly breathing has a direct effect on the solar plexus, helping to balance it.
Deep breathing when laying down with my little one helps him go to sleep more quickly. He feels my calm, which relaxes him, and he goes to sleep. Conscious breathing while playing blocks or ball or castle has a double benefit: I do what little guy wants to do, he has my attention, and it allows me time to deep breath or alternate nostril it, which allows my body to oxygenate and perfuse, because I’m sitting up straight. Win-Win!
When I remember, I infuse deep belly breathing through my day, and especially before and during anything of importance.
As simple as it gets, but easily translated to doing anytime, anywhere. This is prana! Universal energy flowing in and out, giving us the chance to “Be New” at any moment.
- Lie flat on back or with pillow under knees and/or under head
- Palms on abdomen, fingers apart – feel the fingers expand with the breath
- Inhale for 5 seconds
- Exhale for 5 seconds
- Repeat for 2 minutes
- Can do same breathing in savasana pose (arms at sides)
Alternate Nostril Breathing:
I was once told that this exercise was the key take-away in an Ayurveda class I took. It does something to me that allows me to be calm and focused. I use it before meditation to get in a calm state of mind. This technique has been recommended to me every time I have seen an Ayurvedic Practitioner (four times, two different people), and also by my meditation teacher (I learned Transcendental Meditation 8 years ago).
Use the hand mudra (right) with your right hand. Bend your right hand at the elbow and place it in front of the nose. Close the right nostril with the thumb, inhale through the left nostril for 4 seconds. Close the left nostril with the ring finger, open the right nostril, exhale for 8 seconds. Inhale through the right nostril for 4 seconds. Then, close the right nostril, open the left nostril, and exhale for 8 seconds. Keep going.
Do about 5-10 cycles, or 5 minutes.
Deep breathing can be done anywhere, anytime. It can give courage when needed, and provide calm when needed.
Alternate nostril breathing can be done without the hand mudra, or the hands at all; breath in intentionally on the left and right, no plugging required.
Excellent posture, belly breathing – great ways to start the new year. I will be getting that chair right underneath me, and sitting up at my desk. Aligning. Belly breathing. The (yellow brick) road to health is built by slowly adding habits and watching them snowball. We have to sit at the computer, or behind the wheel, so why not sit up straight during that time? We have to clean the kitchen, or walk the dog, why not deep breathe during that time? Singing provides some of the same benefits, as it requires deep breathing. Let’s hear some show-tunes!
All of life is a continuum, but practicing this simple stuff, I’m pretty sure we will find ourselves acting in calmer ways, noticing a clearer head, feeling happier, being more loving.
Happy New Year!