Simple practices for breath and movement

(Follow the links in this post for additional information on each topic. Happy learning!)

How many times have you found yourself holding your breath while trying to learn something new, such a half-pass or gymnastics combination? Yes? Most of us have ūüôā

One of the gifts offered by yoga is learning how to breathe well, move, and perform at the same time. Importantly, we inhale and exhale with the mouth closed in yoga. Unlike exercise, such as running or pilates, yoga teaches practitioners how to meet stress with calm by activating the parasympathetic nervous system through breath.

In the first classes of our Tuesday and Thursday Yoga for Equestrians courses, we are focusing on the importance of connecting breath (prana, the life force) with movement. We also learn how to practice Ujjayi Breathing, Victorious Breath, a form of pranayama, or breath control, most used in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, the form of yoga with which I began my journey over 20 years ago. Here are three simple and safe ways that one can practice breathing and moving:

Wave Breathing is safe for everyone, and can be practiced by cupping the knees or holding the backs of the thighs if that is a challenge. Exhale Рknees in. Inhale Рknees out. 

Cat/Cow¬†(or, for us: Cat/Sway Backed Horse!) is another good warm up for the spine and practice of connecting breath and movement. Really push the ground away and create a “Halloween Cat” with your back, including tucking the tailbone under (often, riders’ lower backs are tight and can benefit greatly from this movement). Keep elbows straight in Cow pose and draw the shoulders back.¬†Exhale –¬†round to Cat. Inhale – extend to Cow.¬†

Swan Dive to Rag Doll Rollup allows the back to stretch nicely and for the prana to really wake up (I’m embedding the link to the FB post of it, as the video is too large to upload to this blog). Engage your abdominal muscles well in all the movements. If your back bothers you, keep your knees bent even on the “dive” forward and down, and/or support yourself by putting your hands on your thighs, as is shown later in the video. Inhale – reach up.¬†Exhale – swan dive. Inhale and exhale as you slowly¬†stack each vertebra on¬†the¬†now under it and round up to standing.

Feel free to comment or ask questions below!

Happy practicing ~namaste, Sylvia

Author: Sylvia Vitazkova, PhD, CYT

Dr. Sylvia K. Vitazkova is a certified yoga teacher, life coach, horsewoman, and conservation biologist. Sylvia’s formal study of yoga began while she was an undergraduate at Cornell University, and intensified when she began to practice Ashtanga Yoga in 1997 while attending Columbia University for doctoral studies in biology. Sylvia soon realized that she wanted to help others experience the consciousness and transformation that her own practice fostered in her and began to teach in 1998, subsequently studying in Mysore, India, in 2002. Sylvia continues to evolve her practice by learning from senior teachers, the most influential of whom has been Barbara Benagh. Her teaching focus is on correct alignment, the joy of being fully present in one’s body, and the psychological and spiritual context within which the physical practice is embedded. Parallel to being a yoga teacher, Sylvia had a full-time career as a professor of Conservation Biology, having taught undergraduate and graduate courses, including a course she created on nature and spirituality, which brought her two areas of expertise together. She has conducted and published the results of her research on wildlife in the tropics, and has been involved in the creation of a number of conservation studies programs. Sylvia’s experience in mentoring students naturally led her to life coaching, in which she became certified through George Mason University in 2014. A lifelong connection with horses has been woven throughout these experiences, from her first pony while a child in Africa, to teaching at riding camp in the U.S., then Claremont Riding Academy in NYC, to the current and ongoing exploration of how yoga can be a tool for better and more connected riding. Sylvia now leads InBodied Living LLC, a wellbeing organization and consultancy, with her partner, James Houston.