Working with your breath can help you to cultivate a more peaceful, potent, and powerful yoga practice, taking your on-the-mat experience to new depths. How? Read on and see…
1. Cultivate Peace and Mindfulness. Do you ever feel like your mind is going a million miles an hour, and when you step onto your yoga mat it just won’t stop?
Well, here’s a tip for you. Concentrate on your breath as you practice. Bringing an unwavering awareness to the breath is one the most effective ways of quieting “the monkey mind”, which just loves to chatter -- I know mine does!
As you direct your attention to each inhale and exhale, you move away from any outside distractions. You become connected to the present moment; almost lost (in a good way!) within the breath, as you move through the postures. When you practice bringing this attention to the breath, your yoga can become, at times, like a moving meditation.
2. Breathe Out to Move Deeper. We’ve all been in those deep stretching postures where you sit there cursing your instructor for holding you in it for so long. Don’t they know how tight your muscles are? Can’t they see how uncomfortable this is?
Although yoga is meant to be a peaceful practice, some deep postures (like pigeon, for example) can create a sense of resistance or discomfort in many people; myself included. It’s very common to feel fidgety and tense in such a strong pose. However, rather than give up and get out, try extending your exhale for a second or two longer than you normally would, for several breaths.
You’ll find yourself softening into the pose, and melting away that tension. This is because lengthening your exhales encourages your body to relax and release. Practice this technique yourself, and see where that long exhale takes you.
3. Breathe Through Your Nose (99% of the time). Breathe through your nose as you practice, not through your mouth. This will help to keep your nervous system in a calm state, and in turn, keep your practice peaceful.
Remember: “The mouth is for eating, the nose is for breathing!” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar.
That being said, it can be wonderful luxury to simply sigh out your breath audibly through your mouth as you settle into yoga’s ultimate relaxation pose, savasana, at the end of your practice. This can help you to completely let go.
4. Don’t Hold Your Breath! I know it’s hard – but breathe like it’s not! During tough postures it’s easy to let your breathing reflect the effort you’re putting in, and become shallow and labored. You may even notice yourself holding your breath completely! Don’t. When the going gets tough, breathe more, not less. Keep your breathing even, steady and deep.
Remember these words as you practice: hold your pose, not your breath!
Why? As you inhale each breath of fresh oxygen into your bloodstream, you bring more energy into your body and muscles, and will feel more zest and strength in your practice – even in challenging poses.
Breathing deeply also cultivates a relaxation reaction, as well as an energizing one. By calming the nervous system, it helps your body counter the physical stress you’re experiencing while holding a strong pose. 10 breath Warrior II, anyone?
5. Find the Flow. Your breath can help create a sense of fluidity in your practice, making it feel almost organic, and like a dance. When we practice yoga we move with the breath.
If you take a moment to notice how each breath feels you may see that the inhalation is often energizing, and lifting; the exhalation more softening, and relaxing.
You can work with this natural flow and rhythm within your practice, linking each movement (however small or significant) with an inhale or an exhale. In this way, your body and practice becomes almost an expression of your breath.
For example, as you sit in butterfly pose, inhale as you stretch your chest forward, reaching your nose beyond your toes; exhale as you soften your body deeper towards the floor, taking your heart towards your feet. You are moving with the breath, matching your movements with each inhalation and exhalation.