The breath affects us on biological, mental, and energetic levels, and that reminds us of its importance, not only in Yoga but also when it comes to cultivating balance and peace in our daily lives.
Conscious diaphragmatic breathing soothes the nervous system and creates a sense of well-being. It also heightens our awareness. It pulls us out of the part of our “thinking” mind that is running a constant inner commentary analyzing and judging what is happening, did happen, or may happen around us. It connects us to a deeper state of consciousness that is without the words, the story, the verbal chatter of our thoughts. And by doing so, it guides us to a truer understanding of who we actually are. In truth, the breath is the most important element of yoga practice.
One should know and learn the techniques of breathing not only when on the Yoga mat, but also when off the mat, maybe during working hours, or at any leisure time.
There are some simple breathing techniques which will soothe your inner self and enhance your body’s systems.
Complete Belly Breath
With one hand on your belly, relax your abdominal muscles, and slowly inhale through the nose, bringing air into the bottom of your lungs. You should feel your abdomen rise. This expands the lower parts of the lungs.
Continue to inhale as your rib cage expands outward, and finally, the collar bones rise. At the peak of the inhalation, pause for a moment, then exhale gently from the top of your lungs to the bottom. At the end of exhalation, contract your abdominal muscles slightly to push residual air out of the bottom of your lungs. Hold for a few seconds, and then relax.
When you are feeling blue or sluggish, try Energizing Breath. This will give you an immediate surge of energy and invigorate your mind. Begin by relaxing your shoulders and take a few deep, full breaths from your abdomen. Now start exhaling forcefully through your nose, followed by forceful, deep inhalations at the rate of one second per cycle. Your breathing is entirely from your diaphragm, keeping your head, neck, shoulders, and chest relatively still while your belly moves in and out.
Start by doing a round of ten breaths, then breathe naturally and notice the sensations in your body. After 15 to 30 seconds, begin the next round with 20 breaths. Finally, after pausing for another 30 seconds, complete the third round of 30 breaths. Beginners are advised to take a break between rounds.
Although Energizing Breath is a safe practice, stay tuned in to your body during the process. If you feel light-headed or very uncomfortable, stop for a few moments before resuming in a less intense manner.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
When you are feeling anxious or ungrounded, practice Alternate Nostril Breathing. This will immediately help you feel calmer.
Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril. At the peak of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your fourth finger, lift your right thumb, and then exhale smoothly through your right nostril. After a full exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb at the peak of your inhalation, lift your fourth finger and exhale smoothly through your left nostril.
Continue with this practice for 3 to 5 minutes, alternating your breathing through each nostril. Your breathing should be effortless, with your mind gently observing the inflow and outflow of breath.
When you feel angry, irritated, or frustrated, try a cooling pranayama such as Ocean’s Breath. This will immediately soothe and settle your mind.
Take an inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this correctly, you should sound like waves on the ocean. Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open. Now make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages.
Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the inflow breath, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.
Do not practice this if you are pregnant or have uncontrolled hypertension, epilepsy/seizures, panic disorder, hernia, gastric ulcer, glaucoma, or vertigo. Use caution if there is an underlying lung disease.
Breathing doesn’t need any special equipment, instead, it can be done anywhere – indoors or outdoors and at anytime – during your leisure or when traveling. Try not restrict it only to your Yoga workouts, but also practice it during short office breaks, or while you are traveling to/from work. It will keep you energized, fresh and stress-free.