Why is Breathing So Important In Yoga?
Breathing plays a very important part in yoga practice, and yet breathing is something that the everyday person takes for granted. When we breathe, we do so naturally and without thought. It is an instinct that we hardly notice throughout the day.
Yoga takes the natural human instinct to breathe and makes it a conscious action, because conscious breathing has many benefits for the body and the mind. It is the same for any type of movement we make with the body; as soon as you slow a movement down and observe it properly it becomes something else, and something that will benefit you on many different levels.
How is Breathing in Yoga Different from Everyday Breathing?
When you make a conscious effort to observe your breathing and play around with it, you will begin to notice how the different ways in which you can breathe can have different effects on your body and your mind.
The more air you take into your body when it expands during inhalation, the more space you create inside which allows for more flexibility, and the ability to lengthen your muscles and stretch further into a yoga pose.
We call this ‘going deeper into a posture’ and once you learn more yoga poses you will find that if when you inhale you length the sides of your body, then when you exhale you can actually move your body deeper into a twist.
You can also use breathing techniques in yoga to create more heat within your body because of the friction that deep breathing creates deep inside of you.
Perhaps the most practical benefit of breathing is that it can be used to clear your mind of the everyday external ‘noise’ that contaminates the inside of your head, so that you can connect your mind with your own body instead and focus your attention and energy inward to benefit you; rejuvenating you rather than draining you. There are even certain ways of breathing that will help to tone the muscles in your stomach!
What Do You Need to Know About Inhaling and Exhaling?
There are significant differences between breathing air in and breathing air out of your body, and each serves a different purpose in yoga.
When you inhale air into your body it has an energizing effect. It prepares you for your next move, especially if your next move is to extend the body in some way. Exhaling, on the other hand is more about release, and it has a calming affect on both the body and the mind.
When you exhale you release all the air that you have breathed in, letting it all go; and this enables you to become more grounded, or move deeper into a pose because you are letting go of your muscle tension.
In the same way that you can use breathing to extend your body and then let go of tension in a physical sense, you can also use it in a more mental sense, taking in new fresh and purifying air and then letting out all the old air and cleansing your body and mind.
Deep breathing slows down your mind and body, and also gives you something to focus on so that the ‘outside noise’ from your everyday life, which is made up of thoughts, stress, conversations and all the external information you take into your mind and retain in your memory, can quiet down.
Why is it Important to ‘Filter Out the Noise’?
External noise is like pollution. It prevents us from having a clear and focused approach to life and people. More importantly, it prevents you from connecting with yourself.
If you are constantly thinking of all of the things going on around you, then you are basically deafened to the needs of your own body and mind. This is when we begin to feel like we are not in control of our own lives any more, and life can suddenly feel overwhelming.
Yoga teaches us to breathe consciously in order to clear the mind and focus energy inward. Yoga practice is all about creating time with your ‘self’.
Learn a Basic Yoga Breathing Technique
Take time in the morning and evening to practice this quick and easy three-part yoga breathing technique.
If you practice this in the morning before you go to work, you will feel refreshed and ready for the day; and if you practice it at night before you go to bed, you will clear your brain of all the day’s external noise, so that you can go to bed feeling relaxed and with quiet mind, and get the good night’s sleep you need.
- Lie down on your back. You can use a yoga mat, or lie on the carpet, the bed or even the sofa; as long as your torso is able to stretch out and lengthen, and your breathing is not hindered. If you prefer to sit up with a straight back on the floor on your knees or cross-legged, this is also fine. Just make sure that you are comfortable and that you won’t be disturbed.
- Now just stay in your chosen position and observe your natural breathing for a few moments. Relaxing any tension in your muscles and clearing any thoughts from your head.
- When you are ready to start breathing consciously, place both of your palms onto the lower part of your belly and take a conscious inhalation through your nose, but only up until the point where you are engaging the muscles underneath your palms in your lower belly, and then exhale the air out through your nose.
- Now, moving the palms of your hands up to the upper section of your stomach, you are going to again, inhale, first into the lower part of your belly, hold it for a second, and then further up into the upper part of your belly until you feel the muscles in your upper belly underneath your palms engage. Then exhale letting the air release from the lower belly first, and then from the upper belly.
- Finally move your hands up to your chest, and inhale again, first into your lower belly and hold, then further into your upper belly and hold, and then all the way up into your chest and hold before releasing the air through your nose, letting the lower abdomen deflate first, then the upper abdomen, and finally letting the air in your chest out; but try to maintain the space that you have created in your chest rather than letting it collapse. This is important for good posture and a strong core.
- Repeat this cycle a few times, inhaling and holding the breath in each section of your torso as you go, until you feel you can make the inhalation in one smooth breath from bottom to top, still feeling the muscles in each section of your stomach engage, but in one smooth motion; and then one smooth exhalation, letting the air out from your lower abdomen first.
You can do this breathing exercise for as long as you feel you need to. This is an intuitive thing. You will know when you feel ready to stop.
Yoga is a about developing a personal relationship with your body and connecting your body to your mind. You are learning to listen to your ‘self’. Breathing is the first step, as breathing in air and oxygen is the first step in a baby’s life.