By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
How important is breathing in Yoga practice? Yoga is so much more than just fancy postures. Strength and flexibility are only two small parts of the Hatha Yoga practice. Breath is something perceived as so mundane, that it is taken for granted. Yet, mastering the breath through pranayama practice is truly one of the pathways to inner peace.
“When the breath wanders, the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”
~ Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Awareness of Breath
When are we aware of our breathing in Yoga class? Usually, when a teacher asks students to honor, or be mindful of, the breath, students will become aware of the act of breathing. In today’s flow style classes (Vinyasa), the default form of Yogic breathing (pranayama) is Ujjayi. Most practitioners are taught how to practice Ujjayi with sequences such as the Sun Salutation, Moon Salutation, Dancing Warrior Series, or the Primary Series. Since flows show up in Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and other styles, Ujjayi pranayama might be the most widely practiced form of breathing in Yoga classes today.
Breath and Life Off the Mat
Let’s be honest, most people have to be reminded to calm their breathing. Most people have a routine of reminders, such as brushing teeth, daily prayers, good posture, and so on. Proper breathing is similar in that we have to make an appointment with ourselves. In daily life, we tend to sprint from one priority, to the next, during our waking hours. Rarely, if ever, are most of us inclined to give any attention to this most basic life giving force, which is drawn in and out of our bodies, every living moment of our lives. In many traditions throughout history, the breath was thought to be linked to the soul. Sadly, most of us were not taught how to breathe, and without that basic knowledge, we lose the ability to simply be, as well. To be able to calm one’s self with breathing in Yoga practice is a gift well worth mastering, for the mental, physical, and emotional health benefits.
Breathing in Yoga class is entirely another matter. Most instructors teach their students about breathing in Yoga practice on the first day. One of the primary principles of Raja and Hatha Yoga is called pranayama, which is the art and science of controlled breathing. In everyday life, people tend to breathe from the chest, instead of from the belly. Deep breathing from the belly is healthier and deeper. Watch a sleeping baby, or kitten, and you will find that their breath seems to fill their belly. Perhaps it is our modern fixation with thinness, or the type of clothing we wear, but for some reason the inherent knowledge of how to breathe deeply is lost as we age.
These low, shallow breaths fail to fill the lungs, and the lung capacity is greatly reduced. Fast, shallow breaths are also associated with fear and panic, and studies show that breathing in this manner will actually raise blood pressure. Deep, slow breaths lower blood pressure and raise resting rates of oxygen in the blood, along with releasing carbon dioxide from the body. The end result is increased health from the inside out. Practicing Yoga and pranayama, on a daily basis, improves heart health and lung function. Each posture is designed to guide the breathing.
Breathing in Yoga class is an entire system of techniques. To look at pranayama simply: We inhale and exhale for a specific ratio, getting valuable oxygen and stress reduction. This is often enough for most people, who barely realize that their breathing has been altered by situations, which naturally occur during the course of a day. Pranayama must be approached with patience and practitioners are advised to be patient with themselves as they cope with the learning curve.
With all that said, serious Yoga practitioners may wish to go deeper into pranayama itself. For these practitioners, it is essential to find good and reliable information. Force is not needed and moderate pace is enough. Pranayama, while very beneficial, can potentially be harmful if forced or practiced improperly. Some of the dynamic pranayama techniques can cause hyperventilation, which may do more harm than good.
Through gaining control of the breath, one gains control of one’s inner self by truly connecting the mind and body. Caution is advised concerning the pace of breathing, force, and breath retention. Students are strongly advised to get the basics down with a competent Yoga teacher. Please avoid forced or dynamic techniques that cause dizziness, nausea, rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, and tingling around the mouth or in the fingers.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
To see our selection of Yoga teacher training courses, please visit the following link.
Click here to see our online Yoga Nidra teacher training course.
Are you an experienced teacher looking for YACEP credits or continuing education?
52 Essential Principles of Yoga Philosophy to Deepen your Practice
by Rina Jakubowicz.
A Relaxing Way to De-stress, Re-energize, and Find Balance
by: Gail Boorstein Grossman.
by B.K.S. Iyengar
By Mark Stephens