Feeling tight in your upper or mid-back? Yoga poses, combined with focused breathing techniques, can open up those sticky spots in your back body, while expanding your chest and sides to help you breathe easier and more fully.
Turns out the most oxygen-receptive part of your lungs is located in your back. Most people conceptualize their lungs as only living in the front of the chest—thanks in part to the two-dimensional anatomy charts we glanced at briefly back in high school biology. But your lungs are three dimensional and quite movable. They expand into our sides, distend our bellies with the downward contraction of the diaphragm, lift our collarbones, and yes, expand our backs when we take a full inhalation. Practicing this “global breathing” can support lung and heart health, allowing for greater oxygen saturation in the blood.
see also Poses for Your Back
The bronchial passages are like an inverse tree that expand down into the lower lungs, and the lungs are tilted slightly to make room for your heart. Thanks to this tilt, there is simply more “lung space” near the lower part of the thoracic spine, filled with the microscopic alveoli responsible for gas exchange. In fact, lying on your belly has been shown in a hospital pilot study to increase the oxygen saturation by ten percent!
A Sequence and Breathwork for Back Pain
In this sequence, take full advantage of your lungs with stretchy asana designed to open your intercostal muscles and oxygen-receptive lower back lungs. Then, enjoy a sweet and accessible breathing practice to boost your immunity and create coherence in your mind and body.
Suggested props: One folded blanket and two pillows or a bolster.
Breathing Tips for After Your Practice
Before or after your Savasana, come to sit comfortably. Allow your spine to become long and your shoulders relaxed. Soften and lower your eyes, or close them if you prefer.
● Bring your awareness to the center of your chest.
● Begin to breathe slowly and deeply, visualizing that you are breathing into the center of your chest.
● Keep all your attention here, breathing slowly in and out through your heart space.
● Visualize oxygen and relaxation permeating your chest…flowing through and across your lungs and chest.
● Begin to expand your exhale to a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…
● …And your inhale to a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
● Continue to breathe in and out for a count of five, feeling this ease and relaxation washing around your heart and lungs…throughout your body.
● Now think of something or someone that gives you a feeling of appreciation and care. It could be a person, a pet, or your favorite vacation place. Feel that gratefulness again by breathing in your appreciation for this soul or place.
● Visualize breathing in that positive feeling through your heart space, really savoring that feeling of gratefulness.
● On the exhale, breathe out that feeling of appreciation as if sharing it with your person.
● Continue to breathe in and out for a count of 5 each time, savoring this heart-centered feeling of care.
● Please continue for at least 5 minutes on your own, bringing your body and mind into coherence and stability.
see also The Science of Breathing