When I began taking yoga classes many years ago, I was perplexed by the number of times that the instructors said things like, “Where is the breath?” or “Check in with your breath” or “Keep breathing.” To be honest, I found it confusing and a bit annoying. Keep Breathing? Really? I mean, do I have any other choice??
I had no idea what they meant or why there was such a focus placed upon the breath. This certainly wasn’t mentioned in Zumba or Spin or any of the other fitness classes I’d taken. But the more serious I became about yoga and the more that I read, asked questions and practiced, it became clear to me that, in yoga, the breath is the whole deal; it is THE path to the entire experience of yoga. Allow me to explain…
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (the foundational text in yoga) breaks the practice of yoga down into eight “limbs” or steps toward living a meaningful and purposeful life.
One of these limbs is Pranayama, the study of using the breath to extend the vital life force (which is known as prana). These breath control techniques allow us to gain mastery over the respiratory process. As we know, there is a strong connection between the breath, the mind and the emotions, so by controlling the breath, we can not only rejuvenate the body, but also calm the mind. And the combination of these two things is believed to extend one’s life.
The first step in working with the breath is simply to break our unconscious breathing patterns (hence, my yoga teachers’ prompts to notice the breath during our practice). The goal is to make each breath long, smooth and full of ease. Breathing should be a balanced process of taking in and letting go (a beautiful metaphor for life, isn’t it?). This kind of breathing supports the parasympathetic nervous system and promotes what’s known as the “relaxation response.”
Think about what happens to our breath when we hear bad news, or are under a great deal of stress, or are in a rush. The breath becomes short, shallow and erratic, right? This is an indication that we are in “fight or flight” mode and the frightening reality is that some people are almost constantly in this state. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how taxing this is to the nervous system, the hormonal system and the body, in general. So…
Here is a breath technique (or a pranayama) which helps to interrupt the “fight or flight” response and move the body back to a relaxed and balanced state. It’s very simple and the difference, even after only one minute, can be quite profound. And I’m not being dramatic when I say that practicing this regularly is life changing. (Not so sure? Try it and see for yourself 😉
Tension Tamer: Three Part Breath
Start by tuning in to the breath: Place one hand on your belly (just above the navel) and the other hand on your chest and begin by just noticing the breath. Where does it start? Where does it stop? How rapid is it?
As we begin the Three Part Breath, it’s helpful to think of the breath as moving in three distinct stages. You can do this in either a standing, seated or lying down position (note: keeping your hands placed on the belly and the chest might be helpful, when new to the practice).
Part 1 – Begin the inhale by filling up the belly.
Part 2 – As you continue the inhale, feel the breath move up the body, as the ribcage expands and the chest rises.
Part 3 – Finally, feel the breath move into the throat. Hold the breath and pause for a couple of seconds.
Now, we reverse the process…
Part 3 – Exhale a bit and allow the breath to descend from the throat.
Part 2 – Exhale a little more and feel the chest fall and the ribs hug back towards the center.
Part 1 – Finally, the belly will deflate. Once you’ve exhaled completely, pause for a second or two before beginning the next inhale.
You can do this for several minutes each morning (as a meditation practice) or in 1 minute intervals throughout the day, whenever you feel the need (I tend to do this in the car, while standing on line, or when I take bathroom breaks throughout the day).
Please keep this one in your wellness toolbox and pull it out whenever you need to bust some stress. And don’t forget to share your experiences in the Comments below. I hope that it serves you well!
Have a wonderful, Wellegant™ week,
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