Modifications for Extra Weight Around the Belly

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—Lisa, Washington

Aadil Palkhivala's reply:


In all forward bends, rest your chest on a bolster or firm foam blocks, and add a little extra padding under your forehead so that your nose is free to breathe. This will relieve the pressure on your belly, and free up the diaphragm for ease of breathing. There are many prop options available and they vary from pose to pose, so finding a teacher who is knowledgeable about using props is key.

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As a temporary alternative, do not bend forward fully in the front bends. If you are seated, take a strap around the extended leg(s) and hold the strap with both hands, elbows straight. Then arch the spine forward to lift the frontal diaphragm away from the groins while pulling on the strap with both hands. This should give you the space in the belly you need to breathe, though it may not give you the quiet restoration of front bends.

Also, begin to bring the movement of breath up into the ribcage. Teachers often forget to teach this and instead only emphasize breathing through the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing involves the rise and fall of the belly as you take the air into the diaphragm. In yoga, we learn to take the breath into the lungs fully, which expands the ribcage. It takes flexibility of the intercostals muscles, but, with practice, your breath can become deeper and more powerful. If you aren't taught to bring the breath into the ribcage, your breathing will be compromised when the abdominal area is compressed in poses like forward bends and twists.

I studied operatic singing for many years, and my maestro frowned upon ribcage breathing. Ribcage breathing, or lung breathing is often considered shallow whereas diaphragmatic breathing is considered to be true deep breathing. But ribcage breathing is shallow only if the ribcage is tight and inflexible. As yogis, we cultivate a ribcage that is supple and elastic, allowing for a full expansion of the lungs. When you begin to master ribcage breathing you will reduce the amount the belly expands as you inhale, which will allow you to breathe more fully while you're in poses that put pressure on your belly.

In summary, start off with your head resting on a pad so that there is no pressure on the belly while breathing. Bring one hand to your belly and the other hand to your heart. Feel the belly expand as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Allow yourself to feel this gentle flow of breath for two minutes.

Then begin to focus on the hand that's on your heart – does it rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale? Can you begin the breath in the belly and allow it to expand up you’re your heart center? Finally, focus on expanding the ribcage laterally as you inhale, which will allow you to use the full capacity of your lungs. allowing more and more air to flow into the lungs and their home, the ribcage.

Slowly cultivate elasticity in the ribs with twists and backbends After a little practice you will find that ribcage breathing will give you much more power, and will relieve belly pressure in forward bends even with the chub!

Recognized as one of the world's top yoga teachers, Aadil Palkhivala began studying yoga at the age of seven with B.K.S. Iyengar was introduced to Sri Aurobindo's yoga three years later. He received the Advanced Yoga Teacher's Certificate at the age of 22 and is the founder-director of internationally-renowned Yoga Centerr™ in Bellevue, Washington. Aadil is also a federally-certified Naturopath, a certified <a href="/health/ayurveda">Ayurvedic Health Science Practitioner, a clinical hypnotherapist, a certified Shiatsu and Swedish bodywork therapist, a lawyer, and an internationally-sponsored public speaker on the mind-body-energy connection.