The Importance of Breathing: Yoga and Pranayama

This week I’d like to talk to you about breathing, because this is one of the primary points in yoga practice.  As I mentioned in the first post about yoga, correct and conscious breathing will help you perform your asanas better and will focus your attention both in your practice as well as listening to your own body.  It will also help to calm and concentrate the mind, and it can even reduce fevers.  But first, you need to re-learn how to breathe.

The Importance of Breathing: Yoga and Pranayama

How should I breathe?

Healthy breathing means breathing through the nose.  There is a series of filters that grab onto lots of harmful particles, and it also regulates body temperature and moisture in the air you breathe (this will help prevent any damage to the internal respiratory organs).

It also means breathing with the diaphragm, or the abdomen, like babies.  Think about how their bellies swell and deflate, and then you’ll have an idea of how you should breathe.

With complete breathing both the inhale and the exhale are executed in three parts.  First you need to fill the lower abdomen with oxygen (this is where 50% of the air you inhale will rest).  Then progress to the middle abdomen (40% of your air), and lastly move to the chest (this area has less capacity and will only house 10% of your oxygen).  The exhalation should be performed in reverse order, releasing first the carbon dioxide from the clavicle, then moving down to the ribs, and lastly the abdomen.  It is very important that you release all of the air, and empty yourself completely to eliminate all of the toxins.  This will also allow the maximum amount of oxygen to enter with the following inhalation (generally we tend to exhale and then inhale once again as quickly as possible.)  If you’re just starting out, breathe like this while laying down so that there’s no sort of tension to make this more difficult.

By breathing completely not only are you taking advantage of your lung capacity, but you’re also training yourself to control your breathing and therefore, your mind.

Breathing and your mood

With the passage of time, your lifestyle, accumulated tensions, etc., begin to shape your body (your shoulders lean forward, your back gets a curve in it…) along with the way you breathe.  Abdominal breathing in babies turns to thoracic breathing (as the diaphragm becomes blocked).  When experiencing anxiety or stress, breathing goes even higher into the clavicle, which considerably reduces your lung capacity, and thereby your energy levels.  This makes you feel more tired and changes your mood.  Breathing influences moods and your moods affect your breathing.  It’s a never-ending circle!  That’s why it’s so important that you start to control your breathing.

 Pranayama

Yoga classes not only teach correct breathing, but also breathing techniques (pranayama) that seek to control breathing and the mind by controlling the rhythm and depth of each breath, which controls the mind state.

Breathing in three steps (complete breathing) that we talked about earlier is just one of several more techniques that could be useful from day to day.  Today I want to focus on those that will calm the pressure from each day, but in another post we’ll talk about the rest (purifying breathing, balancing, energizing, etc.)

  • Bhramari or bee breathing: This technique has a very relaxing effect by focusing your attention to your internal eye.  Sit down with your eyes closed and covered.  Then inhale deeply through the nose and softly exhale through the nose, making a noise similar to that of a bee’s buzz.  The sound should be made with a closed mouth and a relaxed jaw.  Repeat a few times and lose yourself in the sound.  Once finished, lay still for a few moments.
  • NadiShodhana or alternate breathing: This simple technique is perfect for moments that you feel stressed or nervous.  Simply alternate the nostrils through which you breathe, starting by closing your right nostril.  Do this while sitting and repeat 20 times with each nostril.  Within just a few minutes you’ll notice the results.

On another day we’ll talk about Ujjayi pranayama.  It’s good to use these techniques in class with the help of a professor before trying it at home.  Remember not to force yourself.  Just as with the asanas you need to remember your limits while doing the breathing techniques.  If you feel any kind of discomfort, simply start breathing as your normally do.  It will likely be difficult at first but slowly you’ll be able to control your breath, and you’ll experience all the benefits.  A lot of people say that by controlling your breath you can control your life.

Have a great week!

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