Breathing Life into Yoga

Irregardless if you have practiced yoga for a long time or you are new to it, the fuel that gives you the energy is your breathing. The average person unconsciously takes around 21,600 breaths a day. Calculate a year's worth and you have taken 7,884,000 breaths! Your breathing is what sustains life in every cell of your body and mind. Your breathing can be a reflection of inner emotions or used as a means to manage them.

       Let the breath help you explore and experience new places....

By practicing different breathing methods, you discover the power of the inhale and exhale. To focus on a four count inhale and four count exhale, you cut the average minute intake of 12-18 breaths in half. By letting yourself be engulfed with awareness of breathing, time perception changes.

Think about it. Using a four count breath in an hour practice, you breathe around 480 times. Making that change in breathing alters more than your oxygen intake. Notice how time flies during a great practice? Your perception of time has been altered by focused breathing. By being in the magical zone of a practice, time vanishes. An hour can feel like minutes. You stopped watching the clock and let go of time.

Or, rather...time lost its grip on you.

Breathing slowly and deeply can calm you. Breathing rapidly can energize you. Breathing in response to negative emotions can progress them to another level. Your brain has neurotransmitters to respond to how you inhale and exhale. Good deep breathing tells the brain to tell the body that all is well by releasing serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid). These transmitters and hormones send the message of bliss, focus, calmness, and happiness throughout the body.

Shallow rapid breathing ignites the sympathetic nervous system to get ready to fight. Cortisol , cortisone and adrenaline tell the body to slow down digestion, suppress the immune system  and make sleep a challenge. Let the overflow of these hormones and neurotransmitters fire away and your body can surrender to illness. This "fight or flight" mode was not designed to be the dominant force in your body. It does serve a purpose in times of emergency. Unfortunately, stress unconsciously propels individuals to breathe shallow and imbalance of hormones wreak havoc on the inside.

Done consciously, you can use rapid breathing to your benefit. "Breath of fire" is to inhale and exhale rapidly by taking a smaller intake of air. To do breath of fire while in a pose, such as Downward Dog, for a minute can get you charged up. It is energizing and wakes up another realm of senses. To integrate rapid breathing in a morning practice can give an extra boost of adrenaline to the body to use. The difference in using it in a practice vs. response to stress is that you're the one in control. You are using your body's resources to your advantage. You might find your need for caffeine replaced by a few minutes of breath of fire!

The classic Ujjayi breath (ocean breath) is a staple in breathing to practice. All breathing is done through the nose. The space in the throat is slightly constricted in order to produce the audible sound of air passing a wave in the ocean. To do it, you make the effort to swallow and retain the engagement of the throat. It is not a tight hold...just enough tension to feel and hear the breathing. When you release, the air you breathe becomes quiet again.

Ocean breath gives the mind something else to listen to instead of thoughts. It improves your sense of linking breath with movement. It is calming and energizing at the same time. Also, by practicing ocean breath for a few minutes after you practice, it helps to move out  lactic acid that built up in the muscles you just worked. You minimize soreness by this breathing technique.

The body and mind work together. It is up to you to lead them and respect their matrix. Consider conscious breathing a practice within a practice. There are numerous other breathing techniques to experience. The key is to keep it a focus and the intuition of what will serve you best to practice will grow stronger.
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