Today I'm excited to be writing my first post on anything yoga related. So many ideas have been swirling around in my head on what to write about on this topic but I thought I'd start with something simple. Don't get me wrong though, while it's basic, it's one of the things that differentiates yoga from similar forms of exercise. It's also necessary for life...
Can you guess what I'm taking about ?
Proper breathing is the backbone of yoga. Breath is also essential to life, for when we stop breathing we will soon die. How often do you go about your day thinking about your breath? (I don't mean bad breath and you need a mint, lol). I mean whether or not you're breathing deeply, smoothly, and rhythmically. Most of us are so caught up in our busy lives that we rarely stop to take even a few proper deep breaths. Stressful points in the day can result in shallow, chest breathing along with a racing heart - yet we aren't always aware of it. Fortunately there's a cure for that! Tuning into a few minutes of yogic breathing every day is highly beneficial.
What is a yogic breath and how is it done?
Ujjayi (Eww - jjj - I - eeee) as it's called in yoga, is a slow deep breath in and out the nose (lips closed) with a slight constriction through the back of the throat. Each breath should be heard through the throat like a hollow or ocean sound and should completely fill the belly, rib cage, and chest.
As a beginner, try with your mouth open first and slowly exhale as though you're fogging a mirror. Take an inhale the same way. Once you feel comfortable with this, bring your lips together and continue breathing this way. Imagine your breath moving down into your belly and feel it expand out slowly (release any tension from your belly - here's where it's good to soften and push your belly out as much as you can). Once your belly is full, continue breathing to fill up your rib cage. Feel it expand out on all sides and into your back. Finally, expand your breath up into your chest. This is all done on one inhale. Pause for a second or few seconds at the top of the inhale and then slowly exhale from your chest, ribs, and belly.
This is the description I give all my new yoga students and reassure them that while it may seem strange at first, they'll get the hang of it with a bit of practice. Soon it will be second nature as they move through each yoga posture.
What is the importance/benefits of ujjayii/proper breathing?
- The physical body begins to slow down when we breath this way. You'll notice your heart rate slow right down.
- The mental body (mind) begins to slow down too. Focusing on each breath (inhale and exhale) takes your mind away from all the mental chatter that goes on all day long. This is what it is to be completely present.
- The body begins to warm up with each deep breath as it spreads down into the body, preparing for yoga asanas (postures). The breath also creates a fire in the belly helping stimulate metabolism.
So here's my challenge to you...
For the next few days, take time at least once a day (ideally three times - morning, afternoon, evening) to stop everything that you're doing, close your eyes and take three slow, deep breaths OR breath deeply for one minute. Notice how you feel after. Even if you don't notice an immediate difference (but you probably will), keep going for the next few days. Hopefully you will want to continue this small but effective practice on a daily basis as a way of slowing down no matter what is going on around you.
Do you take time every day to tune into your breath?
Do you practice yoga or meditation on a regular basis?
Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment below.
Soon I'll be starting yoga dvd reviews!