Breath and Supporting Your Limbs

9 February 2020

To be clear, there are no exercises that I am aware in the Yoshinkan curriculum that are similar to what you will see here. This is an exercise of my own devise that I feel is a great place to start in understanding your breath and how your body supports your limbs naturally. I am sure it exists in other various forms as I am not claiming to be the sole creator of this posture, just that it was something that I stumbled across that feels right and has a world of learning inside it.

Think of the newest baby that you have in your family. As a baby develops movement skills, they learn how to move with gravity using the small amount of strength that they possess. All of the postures that a baby makes while learning to move have merit and there is a lot we can learn if we observe a child. One common image is a child laying on its back with its limbs in the air. They do this with no strength and can easily hold this position without strain. Also when a baby breathes, it breathes using the diaphragm and not the chest.

Imitating this posture and breathing will enable you to explore how your body can naturally support your limbs from the spine, shoulder girdle and hips. Like Kamae, you will try to use the wrong muscles and it will be difficult. Success comes from short practices that build up to longer times. Trying to do this for 5 minutes on your first try is a waste of effort.


What You Are Trying To Achieve

The goals of this posture are:

  1. Learn to breathe from the abdomen and feel how it expands into the pelvis
  2. Learn to use gravity to support your limbs by channeling the downward force into your Center Line

What You Are Not Doing

  1. Actively using your leg and arm muscles to hold up your legs and arms
  2. Actively using your abdominal muscles to hold the position.
  3. Breathing into the chest
  4. Pretending to be roadkill :-)

The Basic Steps

  1. Lay on your back with your knees bent naturally to allow the soles of your feet to be flat on the mat
  2. Open your knees slightly wider than your hips
  3. Lightly raise your arms in front of you like you are gently hugging a large ball
  4. Relax your arms and feel how the shoulder blades come together and the arms stay supported with minimal effort. Do not flex the arm muscles.
  5. Think of lifting the legs and relax your back and allow the lower back to become flat to the mat
  6. Raise your feet by tilting your hips gently toward the ceiling. Do not allow your leg position to change
  7. Gently breathe into the lower abdomen using the diaphragm and feel how the breath expands into the pelvis. With each breath your feet should move as your lower back expands. Don't fake it and move the feet just to create an effect. Let it happen naturally when it happens. it may take multiple attempts before you see this occur.

Over time the strain of this position gets less as your body learns to support itself from the spine. Stay focused and make sure that you are not actively supporting your limbs with their own muscle or have tense stomach muscles. Obviously there is some use of these muscles, but the goal is to minimize this and reduce the fatigue caused by using too much power.

This is the same thing you want to do while standing in Kamae, I feel that it is easier to learn this from a prone position than standing. Over time as you practice both positions, you should feel how your breath empowers your Kamae.

Don't over do it, there is no contest here. Your goal is to learn to be natural and connected like a baby. When you feel that there is a large amount of strain and effort required to hold the position, then it is time to stop. Fighting through it to make a certain time goal will just train you in the wrong way and be counter productive.

Expect to do this for a few weeks daily before your body starts to clue in.

In the next post I will look at some basic exercises to refine balance.

Happy Training!

Thanks for reading,

Darke Sensei