These words we hear so often in a yoga practice. At times it’s a great reminder and brings us back into the space, other times it may simply be some words the teacher expresses that go in one ear and out the other.
So Why is the INHALE and EXHALE so important? Why focus on Breath?
BREATH is LIFE, our lives are fuelled by our breath. Subconsciously we breathe day in day out. On average we take 12-20 breaths per minute for adults. Give it a go sometime, set a timer and just quietly count your breathes.
In yoga we call the life force or energies that flow throughout our body PRANA. Breath or PRANAYAMA maintains the flow of these energies. Hence Breath is life.
Now that we understand that Pranayama (breath) maintains the flow of Prana (energy) throughout our body and that we do it subconsciously lets look at why we focus on it so much in Yoga. Following are a few of the benefits of focusing on your breathing in Yoga…
Connects Mind and Body…
If you have been coming to class lately you may have noticed we often start in SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA, lying on your back with the souls of your feet together with one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. At times we may also take you through some simple movements with breath as done in Jenny’s classes, such as reaching forward with the exhale, up with the inhale and back to pray with the exhale.
In each of these the intent is to bring you into your own space and connect you with your body. Take a moment, close your eyes and think about how you feel when you lay still in Supta Buddha Konasana. You can feel the rise and fall of your chest, you may begin to feel tension in certain areas of your body, or think about how you feel when making simple gentle movements as you INHALE sweeping the arms forward and as you EXHALE letting everything go.
These actions and focus help to make the connection between you conscious mind and the physical body. When we make such a connection all other thoughts tend to fade away.
Often in a Yin class you will hear the teacher say…”Breath into the Tension…allow it to soften”. Yeah sure some of you possibly think “How can I breath into the tension, the tension is my leg’s, my lungs are in my chest??”.
By imagining you are breathing into the tension, your leg’s in this case, you send Prana (energy) to that area of the body and bring all focus to that area of your body. Sending Prana to an area under tension, especially in a Yin class, you start to feel that part of the body more consciously. This in turn allows you to consciously tell yourself “its OK!” and then tension may just release and soften.
At times the tension may remain, thats’ ok. By breathing into this space you strengthen the connection between the mind and the physical part of the body at which the tension is. In turn this will allow the muscles to eventually relax and soften.
Creates Fire Within…
In vinyasa flow classes, like our Power/Flow or Yin/Flow, we encourage you to use a breathing technic called UJJAYI PRANAYAMA. Which translates to “Breath of Victory”.
Ujjayi Pranayama is the practice of breathing into the diaphragm whilst engaging your UDDIYANA BANDHA (central core lock) and the MULA BANDHA (pelvic floor). Breathing into the diaphragm with your Bandha’s engaged creates an energetic heat within the belly that spreads out to the rest of the body.
The Ujjayi breath is often quite audible and sounds like the waves of a gentle ocean. These sounds can be quite soothing to neighbouring practitioners and aids in the mind/body connection discussed earlier.
Though Ujjayi breath is encouraged in class taking time to master it can be challenging, especially when it is easy to become distracted by other aspects of your practice. Kino McGregor gives a good demonstration in this short youtube clip, take 3mins to watch it and give it a go….UJJAYI BREATH WITH KINO .
In the yoga world we also see many other healing benefits of Pranayama such as reduced blood pressure and lower stress and anxiety levels just to name a few. There are many other forms of Pranayama each form has its own specific benefit and each takes time to learn.
Next time you come to class, encourage you to bring your focus to your breath and create that fire within. Forget about all other aspects of your practice and dedicate your time to your breath and feel the effects. Embrace the connection that is created between mind, body and soul.