For people new to yoga, the biggest challenge often seems to be holding the poses and achieving those wide-stance or body-folding stretches. That’s why breathing exercises can be overlooked and why they usually deliver great surprise when they start working. Learning how to breathe in yoga is one of the essential skills to achieve. It really takes this practice and your general well-being to another level.
Why is Breathing so Important?
This may sound like the most fundamental part of being alive, but the practice of breathing properly has to be relearned by many of us. It’s easy to get in the habit of shallow breathing, or chest-breathing, in our hectic, fast-paced lives. However, shallow breathing can impact your emotions and lead to fatigue or even headaches. Shallow breaths don’t allow you to use your entire lung capacity and they weaken the diaphragm over time.
How to Breathe Correctly
Did you know that you once knew how to breathe properly? Babies naturally use a deep type of respiration called abdominal breathing. You can observe how their bellies go up and down when they inhale and exhale. This is exactly the type of breathing you will do well to relearn.
Abdominal breathing is learned by actors, athletes, public speakers and other professionals because it improves physical performance, creates mental focus and calms them down. Abdominal breathing comfortably fills your lungs to their full capacity, facilitating optimal delivery of oxygen to your brain and muscles. Deep breathing connects you with your body, improves your posture and increases confidence.
Give yourself plenty of time to practise how to breathe in yoga. Eventually you will do it naturally without thinking about it. You will notice changes in your entire system, from your blood circulation and endurance to your ability to achieve a more relaxed mental state. That’s when you really can relax and enjoy yoga’s benefits to a deeper degree.
Beginner Yoga Breathing Exercises
Holding a yoga stretch, achieving posture balance and controlling your movements involve both strength and optimal oxygen flow through your body. Try these simple breathing exercises.
1. The “Glass of Water” Technique
If you are not sure how to control deep breathing, concentrate on three areas in your body: chest, middle abdomen and lower abdomen. Divide your breaths between these three areas and be aware of how they move when you breathe. When inhaling, think of a glass being filled with water. First, the bottom is filled, then the middle and finally the top. Take a deep breath and expand your lower abdomen, then the middle part and finally the chest, in a constant, fluid way. Exhaling can be compared to pouring water out of the glass. First the top empties, then the middle and finally the lower portion.
2. Breathing Retention
Some yoga asanas will involve holding your breath. Practise holding your breath in a rhythmic, calm way, without puffing your cheeks or feeling pressure. Take deep breaths and hold them in for a few seconds before exhaling. Begin with short intervals and gradually increase the breathing retention. This will train your mind to keep calm and your body to use your oxygen resources optimally.
3. Alternate-Nostril Breath
Nadi Shodhana, or alternate-nostril breath, is a gentle breathing technique that helps when you are panicking or having an anxiety attack. Use it to slow your heart rate and calm your mind whenever you need to do so. Close your eyes and use your right hand to hold each nostril closed in an alternating pattern. First, hold your right nostril closed and breathe in through the left nostril. At the peak of the breath, press on both nostrils and hold your breath for a few moments. Release your right nostril and breathe out slowly. Hold your breath again at the bottom. Repeat the cycle by changing the order of the nostrils.
Learning how to breathe in yoga can help you hold the poses, and it will also teach you how to better understand and nurture your body. Yoga dedicates much of its philosophy to breathing and the benefits it brings to your body, mind, and spirit. Practising it will bring happy results in all aspects of your life.