This may sound like a silly question, what can be more natural than breathing?
Surprisingly, clients often complain of difficulty breathing during yoga. I regularly see the tell-tale signs in their bodies as shoulders slowly creep skyward. It seems like in the hustle and bustle of modern life that we have forgotten how to breathe deeply. Stress encourages breath retention or shallow breathing. We are not used to practicing the soothing breath that reaches deep into the diaphragm.
Why is the breath so important during yoga?
Deep breathing aids a physical yoga practice. Breathing supports the muscles by delivering oxygen around the body. Slow inhalations and exhalations calm the nervous system and signal to the brain that we are not in immediate danger. This in turn encourages the muscles to relax and lengthen, increasing the body’s range of motion!
Mindful breathing, or pranayama in Sanskrit, is equally concerned with the internal as well as the physical benefits. Maintaining an awareness of the breath helps keep the mind focused.
Work and family commitments pull us in multiple directions, making being fully present feel like a monumental task. By consciously matching our movements to our breath, vital in a Vinyasa yoga practice, guides us back into the present, giving our thinking minds some much needed downtime.
Where to start?
Deep belly filling breaths takes practice. Start by re-familiarising yourself with what diaphragmatic breathing feels like in your body. Place one hand lightly over your stomach, imagine your belly is a balloon, inflating with every inhale and deflating on the exhale. Feel the gentle rise and fall underneath the palm of your hand and notice the sensations in your stomach and the rest of your body as you breathe.
Next place the other hand across your chest. As you breathe-in start by filling the belly, imagine the breath rising, filling the torso with air and eventually filling the chest. Feel the chest gently expand. As you exhale feel the chest soften and lower, followed by the belly. The wave breath washes through the body, delivering life-giving oxygen as it goes.
I recommend at least ten rounds to experience the full benefits. Take a little time when you finish to quietly observe any changes or sensations that arise in the mind and body.