Basic Yoga Breathing techniques by Hannah Waldman of Hove Yoga Studio, BN3
Breath is one of the few bodily functions which can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously. This is one of the reasons why attention to the breath is common in many forms of meditation and relaxation. Many individuals will go through life not knowing how to breathe properly.
In normal or uncontrolled habitual breathing most people do not breathe efficiently, and as result, use only a fraction of their lung capacity. When people are stressed or anxious they breathe from their chests, taking rapid shallow breaths or worse they hold their breaths. Without sufficient oxygen, we become fatigued and lethargic. Other influential factors that have a negative impact on our breathing are illness, age, alcohol and smoking. A smoker will get out of breath much more quickly than a non-smoker and you can also notice that they have shallow breathing.
It is through relaxation, meditation and yoga practise that time can be spent on controlling the breath and thus enabling us to return to some kind of inner equilibrium. As soon as you begin to breathe in with a more focused awareness, you will soon experience slowness, deepness and rhythm in your breath. Slowness in breath will create calmness, deepness in breath will generate mental clarity and finally rhythm in one’s breath creates internal harmony. Abdominal breathing is the best as it brings air to the lowest and largest part of the lung.
Together with clavicular and abdominal breathing combined with thoracic breathing, which is done with the rib muscles expanding the rib cage, we create what is known as complete yogic breath. For students to learn diaphragmatic breathing it is best to lie on their backs placing their hand on the upper abdomen, where the diaphragm is located. The abdomen should expand outward as they inhale and contract as they exhale. Then they work to expand the ribcage, and finally the upper portion of the lungs. Then they can breathe out in the same manner, letting the abdomen cave in as you exhale. This is the Yogic complete breath.
To get the most out of asana practise it is first important to learn controlled breathing. The simple exercise of raising the arms on an inhale and lowering them on an exhale will help the student find the rhythm between breath and movement. The length of the student’s inhalation and exhalation would determine the speed at which the exercise is performed.
Another exercise to increase student’s breath awareness would be to introduce more dynamic movement like forward bend. The students would stand in tadasana, see (a), and on the exhalation would bend forward, see (b), on upon returning to tadasana would inhale. We would exhale on the way down as the abdominal area would be compressed. When the body is contracted we would exhale and when it is expanded we would inhale.
Incorporating sound and breath can help students become more aware of their breath and its effects on their mind. Firstly sit in a comfortable position, perhaps in half lotus or simply cross-legged, close your eyes and inhaling deeply to the root of their spine. Once the inhale is complete, open your lips and make an OM sound whilst exhaling slowly. After repeating the process a couple of times you should feel more at ease and a slight vibration from the sound may envelop their being.
Bhastrika, bellows breath, is a powerful breathing technique it brings heat to the body and opens up restrictions in the spine allowing a freer energy flow. After finding a comfortable sitting position you breathe in and as you exhale deeply and sharply the diaphragm muscle will pull the navel in. Breathe rapidly through the nose by forcing the air out with sharp movements of the diaphragm. Breathe is not to be held and just aim for deep, quick movements of the diaphragm muscle. Soon the inhalation takes little effort as it becomes more of a reflex to the exhalation.
Another technique is Nadi Shodhana Alternate Nostril Breathing. This technique will balance the emotional and physical nature. Again sit comfortably and cover your right nostril with their right thumb while inhaling through your left nostril. Close the left nostril with the finger of the right hand and exhale through the right nostril, inhale through the right nostril, then close it. Exhale through the left nostril then inhale through your left nostril, close, exhale through the right nostril, and so on.
The final technique is Ujjayi, drawing breathing, which is achieved by contracting the glottis with the inhalation and exhalation. It is also known as the Ocean Sound as it makes a similar sound to this. The Ujjayi breath is done through the nose, but it is helpful to begin practicing breathing through the mouth. To make the ocean sound, whisper the syllable “h,” feeling the contraction in your throat. Keep this contraction engaged on the inhalation and exhalation. After a couple of breaths try to close the mouth, breathing through the nose while still making the ocean sound in your throat.
I truly believe that if it hadn’t been for my yoga classes I would still be breathing unconsciously and so not getting the most out of the energy I have within myself.
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