Yes, I’m finally on track(!), which is why you’re seeing a new post so soon. This week in yoga we are practicing breathing into the shadow side of our poses.
There’s a lot to be said about studying the shadow side of things, including ourselves, but for the purposes of this piece, we’re going to keep things simple and focus on asana.
Quite simply, breathing into the shadow side of a pose means mentally directing your breath into the area of the body that is most obviously folded, scrunched, twisted, or otherwise contracted and shortened. For instance, in Standing Crescent Moon pose, you are stretching the sides of the torso, one at a time. So when you are reaching up and over to the right, the left ribs are opening, and when you are moving to the left, you are creating space between your right hip and your right lower ribs, lengthening the side waist.
A common cue for this shape is to breathe into the side you’re leaning away from to facilitate even greater opening. Equally as beneficial is to breathe into the side you are reaching toward. Necessarily, when we lean to the right, the space between the right ribs and the right hip shortens. Instead of encouraging a collapse of the right side waist, cuing the breath into this space, the shadow side, invites awareness, length, and balance. It invites growth and a new perspective, a completely different experience of your body in the posture.
Try this with Triangle Pose, Reverse Warrior, and Cobra, and notice how your experience is different; note any new sensations that might arise. Additionally, breathing into any space or any side of the body that is not obviously expanding or opening is a very rewarding way to practice asana and pranayama. Breathe into the lower back in Camel pose; direct the breath into the back ribs in Mountain pose; or focus on the belly in Seated Forward Fold, lifting the front ribs away from the hips.
On a related note, for some really sweet fun try breathing “backward” in Cat/Cow. The traditional practice is to inhale into Cow, lifting the tail and chest, and then exhale into Cat, rounding the spine, tucking the tail and chin. However, breathing into the space between the shoulder blades in Cow pose offers such a sweet opening, I wonder why I don’t suggest it more often.
The Catholic Yogi