“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, from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
So many of those interested in Yoga practice arrive hopeful they reduce the level of stress in their lives. As so many practitioners can attest, this can be the most immediate and powerful benefit they can receive.
As the body begins to move and stretch in a healthful manner all sorts of tensions that are stored in the body may be released. There are a number of individual techniques to help with this process; deep stretching, movement flows, holding poses or stretches for increasing periods of time to greater challenge and more.
Still, no matter what type of Yoga is practiced the conscious and skillful use of breathing and awareness is the catalyst for deeper stress relief in any moment. More than that, getting “better” at Yoga for most of us can become about deepening the ability to connect your physical practice of movement and Yoga posture to an aware feeling and attention to breathing. This work can be the bridge to a more lasting transformation. Through the vehicle of mindful attention to breathing, we can come to know in a more healthful and helpful way how the events of our lives are experienced, understood and processed. This can change the very baseline of mental and physical stress with which we live day to day.
This all begins with the inhale–more specifically the inhale of breath through the nostrils. As described below more understanding is coming through brain research just how the felt the experience of breath moving in through the nostrils can itself create changes that recondition the brain and body to bring about a greater and more abiding relaxation.
In the online article, Your Breath is Your Brain’s Remote Control, Crystal Goh outlines just how research is confirming the wisdom of the ancient Yogis. She offers fascinating information about how modern research is validating the ideas that the breath itself may rewire the degree and nature of our mental response to our experience and impact the stress response to serve our well-being and healing in the moment and over time.
In particular, the article discusses the growing science behind how ”Our in-breath is like a remote control for our brains, directly affecting electrical signals that communicate with memory and emotional processing centers” (1).
The author continues, So taking a breath in through our nose can control our brain signals and lead to improved emotional and memory processing, but what about the out-breath? As mentioned earlier, slow, steady breathing activates the calming part of our nervous system, and slows our heart rate, reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. So while the in-breath specifically alters our cognition, the act of slow, deep breathing, whether the inhalation or exhalation, is beneficial for our nervous system when we wish to be more still. (2)
Being aware of this amazing benefit of taking a mindful breath is one thing, remembering how and when to utilize the practice is another.
Nearly every self-care or transformational work we can do for ourselves involves developing skill and consistency in two areas to allow for amazing benefits to accrue. Mindful breathing is no different.The first is to be present for the experience through the skill of a growing ability to be aware of our experience in an allowing and non-judgemental way. The second to have at least a basic practice to develop and deepen this type of awareness and ingrain habits of remembering the healthful connection to the breath. It is through some sort of practice that is developed in accordance with our goals we can become the change toward a more stress-free experience of mindfulness in more and more circumstances in our lives.
As Crystal Goh writes: “This(mindful breathing) in turn becomes a path to insight and a practice we can keep working on. Our breath is powerful enough to regulate emotions and help us gain clarity, and to fully do so we must also make the effort to center our minds to the here and now” . (3)
(1),(2),(3):The quotes above are from Your Breath is Your Brain’s Remote Control