Emma Lovell Yoga

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Category Archives breath

The best way to breathe…

‘The best way to breathe is the way that supports the activity that you are doing.’  Donna Farhi, The Breathing Book.

Kiki Smith – Ribs, 1987, terracotta, ink, and thread

It’s been all about the rib cage and breath in class this week.  Specifically focusing on how we are breathing with the thoracic cavity and aiming to create space and awareness in this area for a better quality breath.  Here’s biomechanist Katy Bowman explaining the mechanics of breathing and how the way you breathe affects the different pressure systems in the body:

Here are some movements you might want to try at home to help create space and release tension in this area:


Side stretch

Walk hands and feet over to one side making sure pelvis and ribs don’t roll with you (they stay level).  You can cross one ankle over the other and take your wrist to make the stretch stronger.











Pec/chest stretch

Lay on your back and bend your right knee up roll it to the left until the knee and foot are on the floor.  Keeping the leg in place, reach your right arm up to the ceiling.  Slightly bend your elbow and then slowly lower the arm behind you.  Imagine your arm is drawing away from you as you lower.  You can move the arm up towards your ear or down towards your hip to find the best stretch for you.










Chest opener

Place a rolled blanket or yoga mat under the upper back.  The blanket should come out under the armpits and shoulders release to floor.  Add a blanket under the head and neck if needed.




Some more tips for better breathing:

Here’s a great video from Jenni Rawlings which aims to optimise rib cage breathing.

Consider your wardrobe- make sure your clothing isn’t restricting how you breathe- think tight waist bands, belts, ties, in fact any clothing that restricts your movement full stop is bad news for the breath.

Consider your belly- are you holding your belly in right now?  Contrary to what is often thought, constantly holding your belly in will actually cause the muscles to weaken rather than strengthen, and like any muscle that is never allowed to relax, will eventually cause a reduction in function.  Not only this, but constantly holding in your belly increases tension in the body and restricts your breath as the abdominal muscles are unable to move freely (among other unpleasant side-effects):

‘Most people have replaced deep, abdominal activity with “sucking their stomach in.” The belief held by most is that “sucking it in” constantly uses one’s abdominal muscles, but really, the sucking-in motion creates a pressure (like creating a vacuum) that pulls the abdomen’s contents up (not in). It doesn’t do anything for core strength (except weaken it over time) or back health (increases the loads placed on the intervertebral disks).’ Katy Bowman

Happy breathing!

How’s your balance?

‘Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create.’ Jana Kingsford


Balancing can improve your focus, strength, and help to calm the mind.  Yet as we age our ability to balance is something that can start to decline.  In a yoga class balancing poses can be some of the quietest and most focused moments of the class.  However, unless approached in a certain way, they can also become one of the most frustrating and tense times.

Here are some hints for better balancing, and ideas to practice at home:


When trying to balance, where you look is really important.  In yoga we call this the drishti, or focused gaze.  When balancing,  pick a spot to focus on straight ahead that’s not going to move.  Keep your gaze focused but soft on this spot.

Try this:

Try standing on one leg staring at your chosen gaze point.  Then try the same thing but turn and look to your right, then left, then up and down.  Notice how this affects your balance.  Finally try to balance on one leg with your eyes closed.


Think about your foundations.  For standing balances, before you start take off your shoes and socks and warm up ankles with ankle circles.  Then wiggle your toes and try to spread them out.  Next try to move just your big toes, then try to move all the other toes without your big toes moving.

Bringing awareness into the feet can help us feel the ground through the feet and so help sense the weight shifting in the body.  Try to ungrip the toes and keep the feet as relaxed as you can so that they are free to sense the ground and help you balance.

Try this:

To work on improving your balance, vary the surfaces you are standing on.  Try balancing on a soft or uneven surface like a towel or foam block.  Notice all the little movements your feet make as they adjust to help you balance on an unfamiliar surface.


It can be common to feel tense as you focus on trying to balance.  But in fact this rigidity and tension can actually make balancing harder;  it is often the rigid and brittle trees that are first to topple in a storm rather than the trees that move with the wind.  A balance doesn’t have to be still- your feet and toes will be constantly moving as they readjust to keep your balance.  You may even find you sway a little from side to side.  So try to keep the pose soft, even if that just means releasing the back teeth or the toes.  Also, keep breathing!  When trying really hard to balance sometimes the breath gets held, and this will only make the body even more rigid- keep reminding yourself to breathe!

Try this:

Stand on one leg and try to keep as still as you can.  Notice how this makes you feel- what sensations come up in the body, notice how easy it is to balance, notice what happens to your breath.  Then see if you can soften or let go of one thing in the pose such as the shoulders, and then another, and another.  Again notice how the pose now feels and how easy it is to balance, notice how much you move when the body is soft, notice how your breath changes.

Take your time

Keep it slow and work in stages- If you are unable to balance on one leg then try standing next to a wall or sturdy chair and keep one or both hands on the wall/chair until you feel comfortable to take it away.  Rather than rushing to get your arms above your head in vrksasana (tree pose- see image), work from the ground up- sort out the legs first and then maybe take the arms up when you feel steady.

Try this: Make balancing part of your routine- stand on one leg when you’re brushing your teeth, for example.

For further information on my workshop on ‘balance’ please see here

Emotions, back pain, yoga

We’ve been looking at the low back this week in class, exploring how limited mobility in certain areas of the body can affect other areas of hyper-mobility, especially with regards to the low back: ‘the body’s natural tendency is to continually move in the places where motion is already easy’.  Here’s a great article by Jenni Rawlings explaining this, with a few helpful tips when back bending.

Another interesting watch is this video from Leslie Kaminoff looking at the relationship between emotions, back pain and yoga: ‘Emotional suppression does not occur in a physical vacuum, you do it with your body, and your body is where you’re feeling the pain.’

Found here

Hips hips hips

We’re looking at those sticky hips this week- an area of the body notorious for deep rooted emotional ‘stuff’ and tension.  Working towards a better and safer squat, we’ll be trying to undo some of the posture habits created by sitting in chairs all day and as always, listening to the breath as well as the body to let us know whether the pose is right for us.     Here’s a really useful video which explains (better than I have been!) how to target the hips rather than stressing the lower back in a lunge:

Exploring balance

iyengar headstand

We’ve been exploring balance these last few weeks in class.  Here are some tips to help your balancing:

– Keep breathing!

– Keep the gaze soft but focused

– See if you can soften the pose, even if that just means releasing the back teeth.  Also, you’re allowed to move about in the pose- keeping the pose rigid and still will make it harder to balance.

– Keep it slow and work in stages- rather than rushing to get your arms above your head in vrksasana (tree pose), sort out the legs first and then maybe take the arms up when you feel steady.

– For standing balances start with some toe and ankle exercises (see post below on foot health) to warm-up and bring awareness to the feet.

– Have fun- it doesn’t matter if you fall out of the balance, just keep practicing!  Try balancing on different surfaces (yoga blocks or a scrunched up yoga mat are good), or changing your gaze to look up or to the side- notice the effect this has on the balance.


Sun salutation

the sun salutation is an ancient sequence-

a prayer, a play, a dance

you can surrender to it

it isn’t easy to plan your practice,

especially first thing in the morning

but you can slide into the sun salutation

without thinking…just being aware

of the flow of movement

From breath: the essence of yoga