The more I practice the more I realise how important it is that I try and keep my chest as open as possible. Does that sound obvious? An open chest allows us to breathe fully, which brings many health benefits. It can really help our energy levels and boost our immune system (see my previous blog on the thymus gland). Deep breathing stimulates the Parasympathetic nervous system and this causes the body to relax. When the body is relaxed it lets go of muscle tension. Then we can work more deeply both in the asanas and in pranayama.
So why have I not always been opening my chest as fully as I am able? Well, for example, in some twists my emphasis may have been to try and catch my hands behind my back, even though I could feel it was collapsing one side of my chest. Of course there are a few poses like Malasana (the garland) where the chest will not be fully expanded. But now I feel it is my priority to be able to breathe properly – and that means having an open chest. Our lungs can lose their elasticity if we do not exercise them fully. This brings about fatigue and other health problems.
I have felt over the decades of Yoga my chest opening more and more and I have been taught ways to encourage this. Now I teach this to my students I can see the benefits in their practice and day to day life too.