Breathing Basics: Simple Practices to Breath Better to Feel Better

When the Breath wanders, the mind is also unsteady. But when the Breath is calmed, the mind is still, and the yogi achieves a long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the Breath. ~Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Smile, breathe, and go slowly. ~Thích Nhất Hạnh

Many now regard Yoga as among the most potent disciplines that support our health and well-being. so many of its techniques help us release these built-up physical and mental tensions and the accumulated effects of stress in our lives. Yoga works uniquely with mind and body by integrating conscious (mindful) movement and formal poses called asana, relaxation techniques, meditation, and controlled, conscious breathing to help work through physical tensions and calm the mind.

Of all these practices, skillful use of breathwork is perhaps the most important catalyst to the transformative change Yoga and related elf-care practices can bring to our lives.

From the beginning of our journey in Yoga, students learn about and begin to practice controlled and conscious breathing practices called Pranayama. Here, breathing is used to access and direct vital energy, focus attention, and relax the body and mind. As described in the quote above, Yogic breathing is a way to teach you how to silence the mind and control the body. We use Breath as a fundamental ‘mechanism to enhance one’s ability to be present and safe in the physical discipline of Yoga asana(yoga poses).

Yogis understand that breathing is essential to life and often a direct reflection of our state of mind and emotions. The challenge for busy and stressed people as they begin yoga and meditation practices is to learn to sit still long enough to get on with the business of relaxation.

Changing the Breath with breathing practices is an excellent start to getting the most out of Yoga and other meditation and self-care practices.

As yoga practice advances, the use of Breath can be refined and deepened for even more significant effects and benefits to our lives and evolution.

Early in Yoga, students are taught some variation of the practices described below to begin their journey. Remember, this information is for educational purposes only. Before starting these or other self-care practices, please consult your doctor, mental health provider, and a qualified teacher for enhanced safety and the best results. Read this disclaimer for more information.

1.) Belly Breathing

Lie down in a comfortable position. Keep your knees bent, feet flat, and l at hips width to help relax the lower back.

• Place your hands over your belly close to your navel.

• Inhale through your nostrils(if possible) into your belly. Feel the hand rise and fingers spread gently as the belly expands with the inhale. The diaphragm draws down into the belly to inflate the lungs, creating this effect.

• Breathe out slowly, with the belly falling inward towards the spine as the diaphragm releases upward into the chest to exhale the breath. And repeat

Continue for 2-4 minutes at first and build up your practice over time.

If you get tense or uncomfortable, slow the pace of the Breath or stop the practice for the time being and seek further guidance.

2.) 3-Part Breath

As you master abdominal breathing, you can explore the Yogic 3-part Breath. This technique creates a full Yogic breath used in asana (Yoga posture) practice and can ideally become a more habitual and expansive way to breathe in your life. The inhalation and exhalation become deeper and flow more easily over time.

Once more, lie down in a comfortable position. Keep your knees bent, feet flat, and hips wide to help keep the lower back relaxed. You can drape your hands over the belly to help you feel how the Breath and belly move.

Begin to relax by taking slow, deep breaths, calming your body and mind for a few seconds. Again, if possible, breathe through the nose.

• Now inhale slowly and feel the belly expand underneath your hands. Your belly is invited to rise gently. Exhale, drawing the belly easily inwards to release the inhale. This is the abdominal Breath described above

• In the second step, inhale deeply to expand the belly and continue to feel the rib cage begin to expand. As you exhale, feel the ribcage and the belly relax inward as the Breath moves out.

• In the third step, inhale and feel the belly rise, the ribs expand, and the upper chest and rib cage fill the Breath as a slow-motion wave. There can be a sense of the heart center (area around the heart)filling with Breath. As you exhale, exhale air from the upper chest, ribs and belly as though the wave of Breath is receding in the way it came in.

Beginning practitioners may find it challenging to feel and organize their breathing in this way. If these difficulties emerge, be patient and use less, not more, effort. This will often help the process along.

If you get tense or uncomfortable, slow the pace of the Breath or stop the practice for the time being and seek further help from a qualified teacher to achieve the best results.

For many, the benefits are quite immediate and apparent. A sense of calm, relaxation, and well-being after practicing is common. These can accrue over time as you continue. If they aren’t, don’t be discouraged. Settling down to try to calm your mind and relax your body can reveal the effects of stresses you have ignored. Change takes time so enjoy the journey.