When I say breathe, I’m not just talking about our automatic ability to breathe without thinking about it; I mean to purposefully think about breathing well in a way that provides tremendous benefits both mentally and physically.
In this post I’ll talk about:
everyday breathing, and
breathing techniques (pranayama) and their importance in yoga, other exercise, and meditation.
So, what do I mean by everyday breathing and breathing well? Everyday breathing is how you breath without thinking about it, the thing that keeps us alive. Breathing well is a conscious effort to breathe well as you go about your everyday life, and not just while exercising.
You won’t do it every second of your waking life, but with a bit of training and some thought you can breathe well on a regular basis and reap the rewards every day.
Natural everyday breathing is rhythmic with each cycle of breath. As you focus on your breathing more closely you will find that:
slower breathing is more relaxing
faster breathing is more energising
you can relax more deeply easing tension in the body
it can help you have a healthier life.
Starting with basic breath awareness
Firstly, always breathe through your mouth, unless exercising strenuously and then breathing through the mouth can get more oxygen to the muscles quicker.
Your body is designed to condition the air taken in through your nose so it’s ready for your lungs to get the most out of it when it reaches them. If you breathe through your mouth your body has to work a little harder before your lungs can get to work and oxygenate our cells. It can also lead to dry mouth, which can lead to bad breath, and even tooth decay.
If you do have a habit of breathing through your mouth, become aware of it and switch gently to breathing through your nose. Don’t force it but keep becoming aware until it becomes natural for you to always breath through your nose.
Take deeper breaths. We tend to take short shallow breaths especially when stressed or busy. This shallow breathing only uses about a third of our lung capacity and it just doesn’t provide as much oxygen as full breathing. Our body uses oxygen for everything, including our mind. If your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen it can struggle to deal with strong emotions and stress.
Again become aware of how you are breathing and try to slow it down a little and take deeper breaths, Don’t force it, or breathe unnaturally deep, just become aware of how you are breathing and alter it gently until it becomes natural to breathe a little slower and deeper.
Take deep breathes regularly. When you are comfortable with breathing through your mouth slowly and more deeply, try taking a few deeper breathes every now and then. This is fantastic when you are outside getting a bit of fresh air, but it works inside too, it’s like a little boost for your lungs and body, and it gives you a few seconds respite.
The simple breathing technique in my post about relaxation and sleep is great for relaxing and becoming calm. Try to incorporate it into your daily routine.
A great start to your day is a balancing breath. A great breathing technique for:
accepting your feelings without strong reaction
grounding you in the moment
starting the day balanced and ready for what it brings.
sit still for a moment or two before you get out of bed and take note of how you are feeling
however you are feeling, don’t think you have to have a little pep talk with yourself, just notice how you feel
then concentrate on your breathing for a short while, about 10 – 15 breaths. Just concentrate on breathing in and then breathing out. As you concentrate your mind relaxes and you become grounded in the moment.
It’s just a short time out for your brain, and balances your breathing before you get up and take on the day.
Breathing for yoga
The correct breathing techniques in yoga is hugely important, just as it is for other exercise and sport.
Breathing techniques in yoga are called pranayama (Sanskrit). The breath nourishes and guides the asana (pose) practice. It often gets forgotten amid everything else in the asana; especially as a beginner moving your body into new and awkward positions.
Practicing pranayama breathing techniques:
helps you explore an asana with steadiness and ease of breath
enhances respiratory function
improves digestion and elimination.
In all of my yoga classes I spend time on the different pranayama techniques to make sure you:
are prepared for the yoga asanas
get the most benefit from your practice
are able to hold the asanas correctly and for longer
can relax, conserve your energy and recharge your body’s energy in savasana at the end of the class.
Here's an outline of some of the different pranayama techniques we practice in class:
Abdomen – helps you make full use of your lung capacity. Great for beginning your pranayama journey.
Ujjayi (ocean breath) – warms the lungs, blood, and body, and helps calm the nerves.
Kapalabhati (shining skull) – energises the entire body.
Anuloma villoma (alternate nostril) – balances the nervous system, calms when feeling hyper, stimulates when lethargic, and centres you when distracted.
While this is not strictly a breathing technique, it is based on breathing and relaxation.
Savasana is one of the most important things to do in yoga, and it’s often regarded as the most difficult as people can find it really hard to lie still and totally relax. The aim of savasana is not to fall asleep, but remain awake while being fully relaxed.
The benefits of savasana are many, it allows the body:
to absorb your practice into your muscle memory, mind, and nervous system
to absorb the energy created by you during the class – a battery recharge as your muscles are fed with all that oxygenated blood you have got flowing round your body
calms the mind and central nervous system as you concentrate on breathing and relaxing.
For all its importance it’s often the thing that students cut down on, or don’t do. I often hear ‘I don’t have time for savasana'. This means that you are losing some of the benefits of your yoga class, all that hard work and concentration, as your body will not retained the energy you have built up during the class.
If you are interested in learning and enjoying the benefits of these techniques, read more about my yoga classes and their benefits here.
I’ve included breathing for meditation here, but of course you don’t have to do yoga to try or practice meditation.
Meditation has a bit of a reputation of being rather hippy trippy, hard-core yogic, or difficult to master; mindfulness is another word for meditation and that doesn’t sound quite so out there.
Most of us understand mindfulness to mean being present in the here and now. In fact, mediation is based on deep breathing techniques and the ability to concentrate and to let go of all the thoughts crowding your mind and to be present in the here and now.
Meditation is not something you just get the hang of immediately, it does require time, patience and training, but whatever you call it try some meditation, it's fabulous for relieving stress and bringing some calm and balance to your life.
As you start, and any at time during the exercise, thoughts will come into your head, don’t worry, just notice them, let them go and then get back to concentrating on your breathing and relaxation:
start by sitting comfortably. Find a chair you can sit in comfortably without falling asleep. The aim of meditation is not to fall asleep, but to give your mind a rest. You can sit cross legged on the floor if you find it comfortable. You can lie on the floor, but again try not to drift off into sleep
close your eyes
become aware of and relax each part of your body. A good way to start is to run through your body tensing and relaxing in this order: feet and legs, hips and back, hands and arms, chest and shoulders, face and head
then concentrate on your breathing. Feel the breath coming in through your nose and notice how it feels and where it’s going. Feel your breath going out through your nose, how does it feel, is it a different temperature to when breathing in? do this for 15-20 breaths
start breathing from lower down in your body, from your abdomen. Imagine there’s a balloon in your abdomen that you are inflating as you slowly and gently breath in. You are then emptying the balloon as you slowly and gently breathe out. Don’t force the breath or breathe too deeply, it should be comfortable
remember to let go of any thoughts that come into your head, don’t concentrate on the thought, allow it to come and then go. Don’t try to force it from your mind, acknowledge it then let it go. I think of this as letting the thoughts through the front door and letting them out of the back without allowing them to sit for a while
then become aware of your breathing again, and aware of your surroundings before gently opening your eyes.
There’s such a lot of benefits to something we all take for granted and hardly ever think about. Try being more conscious of your breathing and consider learning more about breathing techniques and how they can improve your health. Read more about my yoga classes here, or contact me to discuss breathing as part of a yoga routine and the type of class that’s right for you.