When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath. ~Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Smile, breathe and go slowly. ~Thích Nhất Hạnh
Yoga practice is now regarded by many as among the most a powerful disciplines to support our health and well being.At the center of this is how so many of its techniques so effectively help us release this built up physical and mental tensions and the accumulated effects of stress in our lives. Yoga works with mind and body uniquely in that it integrates physical stretching, relaxation and controlled breathing at once to help work through physical tensions and calm the mind. As a consequence of this comprehensive approach Yoga practitioners so often find three core elements of yoga have been shown to be effective at reducing stress and its problematic effects. At the center of this is the unique way that Yoga works with the breath as a catalyst to amplify the effects of the physical poses and meditative practices.
From the beginning of our journey in Yoga students are taught the art of controlled breathing. In this discipline, called Pranayama, breathing represents vital energy as well as the source of the nutrients of respiration As described in the quote above, controlled 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) In addition, the deep breathing allows more oxygen to circulate through your body to help you unwind.
Yogis understand that breathing is basic to life and our rhythm and placing of the breath in reflects our state of mind and emotions. The challenge of a busy and stressed person as they begin yoga and meditation practices is to learn sit still long enough to get on with the business of relaxation. Changing the breath with breathing practices is a great start to get the most out of yoga practice.
As Yoga practice advances so the use of breath is refined for even greater effect and benefit to our life and evolution.
Practiced as directed, these techniques are considered safe and very effective for most people. As always, if you have any physical or mental health issues (especially cardio vascular), other limitations, are pregnant or experience any negative effects please consult with your healthcare provider and seek some individual instruction. Please read the site disclaimer for more information
Early in the practice of Yoga students are taught some variation of the practices described below to begin them on their journey.
1: Belly Breathing
Lie down in comfortable position. Keep your knees bent, feet flat and parallel at hips width to help keep the low back comfortable.
- Place your hands over your belly close to your navel.
- Inhale through your nostrils 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 to create this effect.
- Breathe out through your nostrils with the belly falling in towards the spine… and so on.
Continue for 2-4 minutes at first.
If you get tense or uncomfortable, slow the pace of the breath or stop the practice for the time being
2: 3-Part Breath
As you master abdominal breathing you can begin to explore Yogic 3-part breath. This is the technique for creating a full Yogic breath that is 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 comfortable position. Keep your knees bent, feet flat and parallel at hips width to help keep the low back comfortable. Begin to relax by taking slow deep breaths, calming your body and mind for a few breaths. Here again the breathing is done through the nose.
- Now inhale slowly to fill your belly up. Your belly should rise up like a balloon. Hold this position for a few seconds and exhale drawing the belly easily inwards to release the inhale. This is the abdominal breath described above
- In the second step, inhale deeply to fill up the belly. Inhale a bit more to fill up air in your rib cage. When you exhale, exhale air from your rib cage and then from your belly.
- In the third step, inhale deeply to fill up your belly and rib cage with air. Inhale a bit more to fill up your heart center (area around the heart) with air. When you exhale, exhale air from the heart center, then the rib cage and then the belly.
The benefits are for many quite immediate and apparent. If they aren’t, don’t be discouraged as you begin practice. Settling down to try to calm your mind and relax your body can reveal the effects of stresses you have ignored. Change takes time. Often support and clarification are needed so seek out teachers and other practitioners as you need and desire.