Thanks to Cathy Paterson for providing the next in the Reclaim Your Life series for Busy Women. Take 5 and bring the power of yogic breathing into your everyday life.
What comes to your mind first when you think of practicing yoga? Poses? Breathing? Meditation? Relaxation?
Most of us think of poses almost exclusively when we think of yoga. You may be surprised to learn, as I was way back when, that poses are considered by many to be the mere “tip of the iceberg” of a yoga practice. In fact, you can practice yoga without doing any poses at all!
So what lies beneath the surface of a yoga practice? The answer is yogic breathing, which serves to strengthen, support and integrate your body, mind and spirit. It is considered to be the very essence of yoga and of course, life itself.
Simple yogic breathing is a full exhalation that empties the lungs from top to bottom, and a deep inhalation that fills the lungs from bottom to top. Conscious yogic breathing involves focusing on your breath as a way to stay in the present moment. You let go of thoughts and rumination about the past and future and bring your attention to your current breath, which “lives” in the present moment. Your breath becomes a form of meditation.
Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain stem, the primitive part of the brain. Conscious yogic breathing originates in the cerebral cortex, the more evolved area of the brain. Activating the cerebral cortex has a relaxing and balancing effect on your emotions. So when you breath consciously you are, in fact, controlling which aspects of the mind dominate, causing your consciousness to shift from the primitive/instinctual to the evolved/elevated.
As a yoga teacher, I remind my students to breath fully and consciously through each pose in a yoga class. I emphasize that movement should follow breath, not the other way around. This is because I want my students to begin to experience the many benefits of yogic breathing including:
- Reduced stress, tension (emotional and muscular), fear and anxiety
- A clear and focused mind
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved oxygenation of the blood cells, a vital component in cellular and metabolic health
- Improved sleep
- Increased immunity
- Better digestion
The good news is that you can practice conscious yogic breathing anywhere, at any time. No special class or equipment is required and there’s no cost involved.
To start, try giving yourself 10 minutes or so of uninterrupted time. Set the timer on your phone. Start in a seated position with a straight spine and your feet on the floor. Bring your attention to your breath. When your mind wanders (and it will) simply bring your attention back to your breath. Let your breath become slower and more rhythmic.
Begin by fully expanding your lungs to the count of four; then exhale fully to the count of four. Continue for several minutes, matching the length of your inhale to the length of your exhale. Gradually make your exhale a little longer than your inhale. So if you’re inhaling to the count of four you may want to try exhaling to the count of six. Experiment and find the rhythm that works for you. Let go of any expectations or judgments. Take one step (breath) at a time and enjoy the experience. And begin to reap the benefits!
Cathy Paterson is a certified yoga teacher. She believes that everyone can do yoga and that everyone benefits. She offers a wide variety of classes and workshops including “Power to the She” a yoga program focused on teen empowerment, Yoga for Every Body, Yoga for Parkinson’s patients and Restorative Yoga. When she’s not teaching yoga Cathy enjoys hiking, skiing and walking her dogs. Visit her at cathypatersonyoga.com.
Blog References: “Dr. Yoga” by Nermila Herziza and “Yoga for Runners” by Christine Felted