Reason number two of fifty, why you should do yoga, is to help improve breathing. Most people think they breathe just fine, but many barely breathe. When I first started teaching yoga, I would always emphasize pranayama exercises (breathing practices) and many students would comment that I taught them to “breathe again.”
Observe your breathing right now as you read this, observe your posture. Are you slouched over your computer? If so you’re restricting the depth of your breathing. Now sit tall and observe your breathing, then take it a step further and take a few deep belly breathes (feel belly rise with inhale and fall with exhale). After a few of these breathes you have begun to bring fresh oxygen into bloodstream, this helps clear the mind and relax the body. If you were exhaling completely (pushing old stale air out of the lungs) then you’ve also begun a detoxification process helping clean the lungs.
In yoga we practice pranayama (the control of life force) which are breathing exercises that promote specific results. My two favourites are “equal breathing” (inhale as you count to four, exhale as you count to four), and the “three part breath” (inhale as belly rises, ribs rise and chest rise; exhale and chest lowers, ribs lower and tummy presses in). The equal breathing is calming and focuses the mind. The three part breath is more energizing and begins to stretch the body from the inside as well as begin the detoxification process that yoga assists with.
Some other common pranayama exercises are alternate nostril breathing (rebalances nervous system) and breath of fire (builds energy and clears sinus’). Ujjayi breathing is common in classes as a technique to help hold postures and focus the mind; it almost has the sensation of a fine spray of mist coating the back of the throat as you inhale deeply and slowly through the nose, exhaling with an almost silent “Darth Vator” hum. There are so many different pranayama studies; Donna Farhi’s “The Breathing Book” is an excellent read for those looking for more to learn.
Breathing is the thread that runs through every element of our yoga class, and life. It is something we take for granted, and taking the time to focus on how we breathe can alter our mental, emotional and physical well-being. When I teach I constantly remind students to breathe deeply in postures, and it is not uncommon to see them holding their breath. The deeper we breathe, the more oxygen we bring into the body, the more the muscles can relax and the more balanced we will feel in both body and mind.
If you want to improve your over all well being, learning to breathe properly is a simple place to start. Yoga is the perfect place to begin improving your breathing. Give it a try!
Next week’s blog will be about how yoga helps improve circulation.