When we are born out of our mother’s womb, the first thing we do is breathe! From this day on we develop our own breathing pattern. No one teaches us how to breathe because it’s a rhythmic, involuntary process regulated by our respiratory system. But we can control our breathing!
Breath, is life – worry, anger, agitation and excitement all effect the way you breathe, interfering with the harmony and flow of energy. Paying attention to the way you breathe is the foundation of effective living.Have you ever experienced a feeling, when your heart begins to race and you just can’t catch a breath? Your chest tightens, and suddenly your breathing becomes very fast and shallow. This type of breathing has a profound effect on our entire mind-body system. When you breathe like this it is known as the acute stress response, or fight-or-flight reaction. Essentially, the response prepares the body to either fight or flee the hazard that has occurred. This can be triggered by both real and imaginary threats. In these situations the breath can seem to be out of control but can be corrected simply by bringing the attention to the action and adjusting the breathing pattern by taking deep breaths.
I have read that the ability to breathe fully and deeply builds strength, health, presence, calmness and focus. The more you fuel the brain and the body with oxygen, the better it functions. “Conscious breathing brings us into balance.”
“Pranayama” is the yogic art of breath control. “prana” means breath but also refers to wind, the cosmic life force, energy, vitality and the spirit of the soul. “ayama” means extension, regulation, restraint or control. As a result “pranayama” signifies the prolonging of holding the breath, but also the direction and control of the vital energy that permeate’s every action, thought and feeling. A powerful tool!
The postures of yoga strengthen and prepare the body and mind for breathing practices. They help us to ground ourselves and increase our ability to manage the stresses that are filling our mind. Yoga also helps us build self-confidence by developing a good habit of slowing down and looking inward for strength and answers.
There are an abundance of yogic breathing exercises to cleanse, detox, stimulate and calm the body.
When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fills your lungs, and you will notice your belly rising. As you breathe out through your nose your belly will deflate. The ability to breathe so deeply and powerfully is inborn but often it lies dormant. Reawakening it allows you to tap one of your body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms.
Deep abdominal breathing encourages a full exchange of oxygen, meaning that we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, this type of breathing slows down the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure. You can practice diaphragmatic breathing for several minutes:
Put your right hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button and your left hand on your chest. Feel your belly hand rise an inch each time you inhale and fall each time you exhale. Your chest hand will rise slightly, too, together with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.
Mindful breathing is a means of communication between mind and the body. It helps us to know what we are feeling. Breathing in and breathing out is a practice of freedom. When we focus our attention on our breath we release everything else, including worries or fears about the future and regrets or sorrows about the past. Freedom is the most precious thing there is. It is the foundation of happiness and is available to us with each conscious breath we take.
Mindful breathing brings your conscious mind into play while the physical body is actively doing the effort. When we breathe in, we know we are breathing in. When we breathe out, we know we are breathing out. But when you consciously pay attention to your breath it becomes a meditation. As you sit and focus your mind on your breathing, you are your in-breath and your out-breath, completely from within.
To practice mindful breathing first sit cross-legged on the floor on a comfortable cushion or in a straight back chair with feet on the floor. The moment you start to breathe in and are aware that you’re breathing in, you have begun to breathe mindfully. You can say a mantra to yourself as you breathe.
“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.”
“Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”
Allow your breathing to become relaxed and natural. As your body relaxes, notice how you take each breath in one continuous motion. When a distraction arises, observe it as it comes into your mind and just let it float away without clinging to it. Then gently bring your awareness back to your breath and mantra. As you continue breathing with awareness, your breath naturally becomes deeper and slower.
Yoga breathing exercises bring vital life-force into our lives that allows us to develop and practice personal responsibility for our well-being in mind, body and spirit. It teaches us to take care of our self, to rest, regroup and release whatever tensions or stresses are filling our minds and bodies at the moment. It’s a wonderful way to take a time out for our own benefit, leaving us feeling positive, grateful and magnificent!
Annie Moore, founder of Vidatherapy is an advanced clinical massage therapist and qualified Yoga Alliance Yoga teacher.