What do you do subconsciously between 17,280 and 28,880 times a day? You inhale. You exhale. You inhale, and then you exhale again, without even realizing it. Yet breathing is essential to your life and, of course, to a healthy yoga practice. Here is a brief summary of the main benefits of breathing and related activities.
Benefits of conscious breathing
Take a deep, long inhale through your nose and fill your lungs. Now, exhale completely. How do you feel? Better? That is normal – deep, abdominal breathing alleviates the effects of stress and even reduces migraine attacks. The link between concentration and breathing has been established; some universities even offer meditation and mindfulness classes within their medical faculty!
But how do you breathe?
You might think it is a rhetorical question, but there are in fact several ways to breathe consciously. In hatha yoga, the flow of postures is never at the expense of breathing, which must be full and coordinated with the body movements.
Breathing – the foundation of pranayama
In the yoga tradition, pranayama is the discipline concerned with the breath, meaning the breathing movement and that of the life force in the body. There are more than some fifty different breathing exercises and pranayama techniques, including ujjayi and anuloma.
Ujjayi – Also called “the ocean breath,” ujjayi simply consists of inhaling deeply through the nose, filling the abdomen first, then the ribcage, and finally the chest and throat. It is this diaphragmatic breathing that is generally favoured in the practice of yoga.
Anuloma – This alternate breathing is easy to do – inhale fully, then block off one of your nostrils with a finger. Exhale through this nostril, and then inhale again. Now change nostrils before exhaling, inhaling again, alternating in this way for as long as you want.
The best news in all of this is that breathing is inherent to life, and yoga offers a host of tools to pay attention to it. The next time you feel stressed out, it is easy – take a deep inhale, exhale completely and repeat as many times as necessary! Do you become aware of your breath – voluntarily or not – at certain times of the day? Do you have any breathing exercises to share with us?