Hey, nice breath.
Breathing is something we do without even thinking about it. Every. Single. Day. In yoga we are more intentional with our breath, lengthening each inhale and exhale, or maybe changing the rhythm of the breath entirely through pranayama.
But how often do we compliment someone else's breath?
When we see a yoga video on Instagram many of us comment on the 'great pose' or the 'cute pants'. I do it too. But do you notice their breath? Do you notice how they listen to their body? Can you feel their intention? I used to follow A LOT of Instagram yogis that posted amazing photos with beautiful backgrounds, impossible poses, and expensive clothing. Although I think that these accounts are great from a marketing standpoint, they don't really show what yoga is really about. Asanas (the physical yoga postures) are just one aspect of a yoga practice, and most of what see on social media only shows this one part. So now when I follow yogis on Instagram, I try to be more selective and notice the individual's overall yoga practice, not just the pretty pictures they post. I love when I can see someone breathing in their video because it's often a sign that they are focussing on more than just what their physical body is doing in that moment.
I share my practice because it's such a fundamental part of who I am, and for me, Instagram is just one of many journals that I keep. Of course I like sharing videos of inversions because, well, I love inversions.
But the breath is where it all begins.
So where do you begin?
Pranayama (breath work) can help calm the mind, and is beneficial for the our central nervous systems. The mind/body connection is crucial in yoga, and creating an awareness of the breath helps nurture that connection. Below I've listed a few options for breathing techniques that you can try at home, either during your yoga practice or at any time throughout your day.
Please note that some pranayama techniques are not suitable for women who are pregnant.
Sama Vritti (Even breath)
For beginners or people who are skeptical about pranayama, this is the best place to start. Simply create a long even inhale, follow by a long even exhale. You may want to count each breath, for example starting with a count of three, and working your way up to a count of eight. This breath is great for the beginning, middle, or end of your yoga practice, and has a very calming effect.
Viloma 1 (Interrupted exhales)
In pranayama there are actually four parts to the breath - the inhale, the exhale, the internal breath retention, and the external breath retention. This breathing technique includes breath retention on the exhalation: Inhale for a count of four, exhale for two, hold the breath for a count of two, then continue to exhale for another count of two. The technique is also referred to as 'cooling breath' because it is believed to help with anxiety and stress.
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breathing)
This one requires some coordination, but once you get used to it, it's really quite straightforward. Using the thumb on the right hand, plug the right nostril and inhale for a count of five through the left nostril. Then plug the left nostril with the right pinky finger, and exhale for a count of five through the right nostril. Inhale for five through the right nostril, then plug the right nostril and exhale for a count of five through the left. Repeat 5-8 times. You can watch this video for further explanation.
This pranayama is great for at the beginning or end of your yoga practice, and I also find it really helpful if I have any sort of nasal congestion. Just make sure to have a tissue nearby...
Once you start including pranayama into your regular yoga practice, I guarantee you'll find yourself craving it. On days when my body needs a break, I love focussing solely on pranayama and meditation. I also use different breathing techniques throughout the day if I find myself needing to 'take a moment' during a stressful situation, or maybe even boost my energy level. It's amazing how something as simple as the breath can have such a profound effect on our overall well-being.
Questions or comments? Let me know below.