Sunday, January 8, 2012

Breath of Life

Deep Breath.  I hear myself say this so many times and not just in yoga class.  The breath brings us to the present moment.  With a deep, intentional breath, we release our grip on the past and move away from the concerns of the future.  Our breath can serve as our anchor; grounding us when our mind seems scattered and ego in control.  

Breathing is an autonomic or automatic function of the body that begins at birth. It is said that life begins and ends with the breath. That does not mean the breath is optimal. Reverse or shallow breathing or even holding the breath will all change the effect on the body, mind and spirit. 

Did you know the body takes 20,000-30,000 breaths a day? It is no wonder that our breath can affect so many aspects of our body including emotions. We’ve heard and even said, “Take a deep breath.” Reminding us that the breath can help calm the mind and increase clarity. Pranayama or breath control exercises have been found to be effective in reducing irritability, muscle tension, headaches, poor concentration, stress and fatigue.

As we inhale, the body opens or expands as the diaphragm (a sheath-like muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity), lowers creating a vacuum for the lungs to take in air. On the exhale, the body folds or contracts as the diaphragm lifts and lungs release waste. By connecting the breath with movement, we increase the efficiency and benefits of our yoga practice.

The breath can be explored with movement, in a seated position, lying down or in whatever position you wish.  Below are two breath exercises I encourage you to play with.  

Even Breath
  • Lengthen the spine. 
  • With mouth closed, inhale through your nose allowing your diaphragm to push down expanding your belly and rib cage. Your chest will lift slightly as your lungs fill with air. 
  • When your lungs are full, exhale through your nose. Your chest will lower. Contract your belly to release the remaining stale air. 
  • Do not strain to hold or release the breath. 
  • Invite the breath to be continuous, smooth, and even as you continue. 
  • As you focus on the breath, become aware of the two qualities of an even breath and make adjustments accordingly.  An even breath consists of 
    • the length of your inhale matching the length of your exhale.
    • a consistent volume of air flowing throughout the breath.
Breath with Finger Tap  
  • Lengthen the spine. 
  • Allow one palm to face up. 
  • Inhale touch your thumb to your index finger. 
  • Exhale. 
  • Inhale touch your thumb to middle finger. 
  • Continue tapping your thumb to each finger for 8 breaths or more. 
  • Feel free to make this an even breath.