Breath and yoga are like bread and butter; they go together seamlessly. In fact, yoga without breath is, well, not really yoga. Pranayama (breath) is one of the eight limbs of yoga, is one of the only automatic processes in our bodies we have full control of, and it’s a powerful tool to support our mental and physical health.
Breathing in yoga
Teachers will often guide movement with breath, especially in a vinyasa class, but it can be a little confusing and overwhelming if you’re brand new to yoga. Breathe in consciously, and do what with my leg? Or maybe your teacher’s asking you to breathe in and you’re definitely breathing out. If this is you, don’t worry. First of all, this understanding of breath and movement together will develop over time. Secondly, it’s okay if you’re not doing exactly as your teacher says as they say it; just take their breath cues simply as a reminder to continue breathing mindfully.
Yoga breathing 101
Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the most from your breathing practice in every yoga class:
- Breathe through your nose. Your nose is a perfectly-designed filter that makes every breath the perfect temperature and removes any nasties. A few exhales through your mouth can be an emotional release, but focus on nasal breathing for the most part.
- Breathe slower. Lengthen each breath and slow them down a little. This is a signal to your nervous system to follow suit and support your body in slowing down, too.
- Feel your ribs moving. As you inhale, feel your ribcage expanding outwards in all directions. As you exhale, feel that deflation as your ribs soften back in. Your teacher will often refer to your belly expanding, just make sure your belly is following this movement in your ribs, the perfect way to know you’re deepening your breath.
- Practice ujjayi breath.
What is ujjayi breath?
This is the most ubiquitous breath in the yoga practice, and is a perfect first technique to learn. This breath is often called ‘ocean breath’, or ‘Darth Vader breath‘ due to the way it sounds.
How to do ujjayi breath?
Breathe in through your nose (making sure you feel your ribcage expanding in all directions) and close the back of your throat slightly. It should sound like you’re doing a gentle impression of Darth Vader, without anything feeling tight or constricted.
Breathe out with the same sound, so the throat remains in the same position. It should feel like the same sort of breath you’d use to fog up a mirror without your mouth being open.
Why ujjayi breath?
It’s a steady, focused breath we can rely on in our yoga practice to help us stay present and focused. It supports our relaxation response, and the shifting of our nervous system into the easy and relaxed state we need to engage calmly with ourselves, others, and life in general.
Couple this breathing technique with movement and positive intentions in a good yoga class, and you’ll be tapping into one of the best body-and-mind practices you can do.
The bottom line
It’s free, it’s easy, and it has the potential to dramatically change your life. Breathe properly in your yoga practice, and you’ll tap into one of the biggest tools in the yogic tradition. Read more about yogic breathing techniques here.
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