So while I’ve always loved to write, again the true prompt for enabling me to face my fears and insecurities, drop my guard and pick up my pen, was my yoga practice. Especially since becoming an instructor, I am often asked about the various benefits of yoga practice, both on and off the mat. As I considered writing my thoughts about it, brainstorming was so exciting! Then I felt very overwhelmed…there is so much to share! A near panic set in when I wondered where I would even begin. That’s when I took a deep breath and realized the only place to start is at the beginning…with BREATH!
We enter this world on a breath. We also leave it on a breath. In between we average roughly 20,000 breaths per day. How many of those breaths do we really think about? Our breath is our most vital life force, referred to as “prana” in yogic philosophy. It is our greatest source of energy and vitality. Before anything else, without breath we can’t survive. But beyond basic survival there are so many gifts we can receive from our breath. Yoga has taught me that there is a quality factor associated with our breath, that if we learn how to harness and cultivate better quality breathing, we will enhance our lives on and off the mat.
All lineages of yoga begin with breath. Any class I’ve taken or taught begins with bringing conscious awareness to the breath. Whether it is utilizing a specific breathing exercise to set up a practice (as in the Bikram series), or learning how to link breath with movement (as in Ashtanga or vinyasa flow classes) realization and recognition of the power of our breath is at the forefront. On a physical level, the inhale breath contracts and strengthens the muscles, while the exhale breath allows for softening and lengthening of the muscles. Building on this principle, in general the inhale breath gathers fresh oxygen, energy and prana, nourishing the body right down to a cellular level; while the exhale breath releases toxins in the form of carbon dioxide, and tensions, not only in the physical body but also in the mind.
How many times have we thought, been told, or told our own children to “take a deep breath” when confronted with a challenging situation? It is a cliché of sorts, but channeling my own ability to breath better thanks to my yoga practice has better enabled me to not only deal with stresses in life, but also to teach my children how to breathe with purpose, enabling them to deal with their own stress. As parents we strive to set good examples for our children and equip them with tools that will allow them to manage their lives with less stress, more peace. Your son falls off his bike and skins a knee…encouraging him to breath with intention and attention will not only calm his mind and emotions, but also enable the pain receptors in the brain to respond and maybe that boo-boo hurts just a little less.
There are breathing exercises for overcoming sleeplessness, reducing anxiety and balancing energy systems in the body, just to cite a few. Here is a basic exercise, which can be done while you sit at a red light or stand in line at the grocery store, to draw awareness and intention to the breath: inhale to a count of five, retain the breath for five, exhale for five and pause for five before taking your next inhale. Practicing deep breathing, in and out through the nose, during non-stress situations will better enable you to call upon that deep breathing when that stress arises and you really need it. Hopefully next time your daughter spills orange juice all over the counter when you’re already running late for school…you’ll remember to breathe.
It’s all possible.