Emma Lovell Yoga

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Category Archives biomechanics

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!

Jules Mitchell

These two podcasts from Ariana Yoga are really worth a listen.  Both are interviews with Jules Mitchell, who inspires a lot of my own teaching.  Among other things, she discusses what we are actually doing in yoga, stretching, injuries, and biomechanics.   Click here for the first podcast- Jules’ suggestion of the benefits of sometimes teaching  ‘mis-alignment’ in yoga practice inspires next week’s classes.  If this sparks your interest then you can listen to Jules’ more recent interview here.


I’ve recently been introduced to the teaching of Diane Bruni by Rachel Johnston (who provides endless movement and teaching inspiration, and reminds me to keep questioning everything!)  Diane has these wise words on her website:


This is a question I ask every time I practice and teach. If what we’re training into our bodies does not enhance the movements of daily life, why would be practice them? Why not practice the poses and movements that will reinforce the patterns that we were designed to move in. Instead of standing on our heads and risking neck injury, why not learn to walk well? Instead of forward folding with straight legs and putting strain on the lower back why not learn to squat well? The list goes on.’

What I teach is not static or set in stone.  I don’t stick to one ‘system’ and I am learning to constantly question and re-question what I am teaching.  This means that under the umbrella of yoga, my classes are influenced by anything that has inspired me to move better, and that I want to pass on to others to help them move better and be more aware of their bodies.  This can be yoga, or most recently The Feldenkrais Method, Katy Bowman, Gary Ward, and Somatics.  This also means a lot of unlearning of things I was previously taught (namely alignment cues, and what I am training into my own body) , things that I had previously never questioned.  Rachel Johnston sums this up perfectly (full post here):

 ‘You as practitioners and we as teachers should never stop questioning and exploring in this kind of work. Half of what we think we know (and teach) is most likely misguided or wrong, and we are never going to find out which half without challenging perceived wisdoms.’

Here’s a more natural way of positioning the hand in Downward dog taken from Diane’s website (you can read Diane’s full ‘hand rant’ here), which challenges the traditional alignment cues given in most yoga classes:

Give it a go and notice if and how it changes the pose for you.


‘Even though we now have only the beginning of what was once a real mammalian tail, it behaves the same. Untucking the tailbone opens the pelvic outlet, tucking it closes it — tightening the pelvic floor. The dog with his tail down between his legs is an equivalent of you sitting on your sacrum, the back supported by a chair or a couch. If you spend multiple hours a day in this position, your pelvic floor doesn’t really have a chance to release and allow the muscle fibres to regain their natural length at resting state. So gradually it shortens.’  From Yoga with Ivana blog

Individual practice

A couple of articles here on the changing approaches to yoga.  First, the brilliant Matthew Remski writing about  ‘extreme practice and injury in asana’ and also touching on the online trend of posting pictures of extreme yoga poses which, for most of us, are completely inaccessible.

‘Pattabhi Jois was fond of the adage, “With enough heat, even iron will bend”. But this new rationalist yoga discourse imposes clearer limits upon the aspirational body, insisting that muscles do not get “longer”, and pain is not an “opening” – except in a pathological sense. The primal dream of bodily transformation through “being worked into a noodle”, as Jois student Annie Pace described it, is being eclipsed by the simpler goal of enhancing a natural range of motion for functional movement.’ See more here.


On a similar note, Jenni Rawlings discusses how our different body proportions affect our practice, stressing the importance of moving away from the ‘one-pose fits all’ approach in yoga, which can force the body into shapes that could cause injury by focusing on the aesthetics of the pose:

In the yoga world, we often conceive of asanas as having one final form that we are all striving to “achieve” or “finish.” But when we learn to appreciate the role that our unique body proportions play in what our specific yoga poses look like (or how hard we might be working in our shapes), we can start to broaden our notion of what it means to “progress” in yoga practice. Ultimately, our top priority in any asana should be for the shape to serve the individual body performing it; how the pose looks will then be a natural byproduct of that goal.’  For the full article see 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:

Appreciating the feet

It’s been all about the feet in class this week.  We’ve been looking at foot and ankle alignment, as well as stretching the muscles around the feet (which can get surprisingly tight).  Here’s a video with some great exercises for foot health:


We often neglect the poor feet, so every so often it’s nice to appreciate what they allow us to do in daily life, and in yoga- balance, strength, stability.

Look after your feet- Give yourself a weekly/daily foot massage.  Put your feet up:

Let go of your toes- gripping the toes could be a sign you are holding something somewhere else in the body

so just stay…and exhale

until the message crawls to the feet

and the gripping goes away

(From: breath:the essence of yoga)

Use your feet- try to walk barefoot as much as you can to allow the foot and ankle the space to move, free from shoes.  Walk on uneven surfaces- when we’re not sitting, most of our day is spent walking on flat, even ground which means we’re never really using the ankle joint and muscles in the feet to their full capabilities (for more information on this, see the amazing Katy Bowman’s work)- stray off the path, instead of steps walk uphill, walk downhill, and don’t forget to squat (see here for how to perfect your squat)!