Breathing…It’s kind of important … So, let’s take a look at how to do it right!
I remember sitting in my very first yoga class and being asked to find a comfortable seated position. I was then asked to become aware of my breath and my brain immediately went to thoughts of “…Huh?” “What is this yoga lady talking about?” “How do I become aware of my breath? Isn’t it just supposed to work?” All of a sudden I became aware of the fact that my chest was heaving, “My breath … why is it so fast? Is anyone else feeling like this?” My breath was so shallow I was very sure that I would have a panic attack!
Just as I was about to get up and leave my mat behind, I heard a serene voice telling me to exhale to the count of four and inhale to the count of four. Inhale … 2 … 3 … 4 …; Exhale … 2 … 3 … 4 … Again, this time on the exhale bring the belly button to the spine. With the inhale, feel the belly fill, the spine lengthen, and the body calm.” As my breath slowed and I was able to steady my thoughts a bit, I began to feel better.
I distinctly remember thinking, “So, this is yoga.” As neive as this thought is, it isn’t completely off the mark.
Breath, also known as pranayama, is a part of the practice of yoga. It is one of the eight limbs of yoga, to be exact. (One day I’ll tell you all about all of the eight limbs of yoga, but for today, we’ll leave that thought there.)
Breathing all starts with the physical mechanics of the breath. Including every muscle from the base of the skull to diaphragm, you need a strong back, an expanding diaphragm, and an awareness of injury. For more information on exactly how this works, check out the following article by Julie Gudmestad, a licensed physical therapist and certified Iyengar Yoga teacher:http://www.yogajpurnal.com/practice/656 .
I will not pretend to tell you that I can teach you everything there is to know about the practice of pranayama in yoga, but I can give you some clues to help enhance the pose, asana, portion of your yoga practice.
Listen to the breath cues of the instructor and follow them to the best of your ability!
From the beginning of the class to the end, your instructor is providing you with the breath cues you need to practice with the optimal results. Meaning, when we come to the mat we have all likely encountered some sort of struggle or made some sort of scheduling sacrifice to get there and, while we feel a number of things, calm isn’t likely to be one of them. Your mind is racing, you are fumbling to turn off your cell phone, you are rushing to change your clothes and find a spot in an already packed room to roll out your mat …
Your yoga teacher knows this. And, in all likelihood had a similar set of experiences leading up to class. The difference between the serene voice weaving through the room and your pounding heart is the breath. From the first instruction you are offered in class to the last cue, you are being let in on the secret … settle into your mat and become aware of your breath.
Become aware of the breath
Once you learn to listen, your breath will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about yourself. When you focus on your breath you begin to become aware of the effect the breath has on the body.
Try this …
Remember how you felt when you were in your car and a driver cut you off forcing you to slam on your brakes to avoid hitting them. What did your breath do? How did this change the way you felt?
Now, think of a sunny spring Friday afternoon. What does your breath do when you imagine yourself opening the door to the outside of the building to head home early? How do you feel?
Tense breath versus relaxed breath is very different. And, the effects on the body and the mood are very different.
In class your instructor is providing you breath cues to help enhance your practice by using the breath. It is important to follow those cues because breath brings much needed oxygen to the bloodstream, which brings more energy into your body and muscles. Deep breath also cultivates a relaxation reaction by calming the nervous system, helping to reduce physical stress. Both breaths are needed in your practice to help you move through and sustain your practice.
Teacher tip: In case you get lost with the movement and the breath, it is good to remember as a general guide that you want to exhale as you move toward the floor and inhale as you move away from the floor.
Use your breath to find your flow
Now that you’re listening to the breath cues (and trusting them), and you have found your breath … use your breath to find the flow of your practice. When in a difficult pose I will often ask my classes if they are breathing. And, I rarely find a class where everyone responds in the positive. Without fail, a person or two will realize they are holding their breath. In yoga this is a classic sign that they are pushing too far into the pose. I remind them that if they can’t breath in a pose they are chasing the pose and they need to back off the stance until they can follow the breath cues with some ease.
I then remind them that to be in each pose as it is meant to be experienced they are following the breath into the pose, finding their flow. Don’t get what I mean? Come to a class at Empower Personalized Fitness and experience it … it really is the best way to truly catch your breath.
Empower Personalized Fitness offers yoga classes Monday through Saturday with meditation on Sunday. Go to our website www.becomepowerful.com to view our class schedules for Durham and Raleigh. The first class is FREE to all new clients to Empower!
See you on the mat!
RJ is a member of International Association of Yoga Therapists, Yoga Alliance and is CPR AED certified. RJ holds a 200-hour Prana Flow® teacher certification from Evolve Movement, Raleigh, NC and is working toward her 1000-hour certification in yoga therapy through a combination of intensive study with Joseph and Lillian LaPage at Kripalu and internships. Additionally, RJ holds a Bachelors of Arts in English with a minor in Creative Writing from West Virginia University.