Why is the Breath so important?

In the classes I teach I try to establish in students a strong basis in breath control throughout the practise. Whether is it simply observing the flow of the breath or keeping it steady and smooth even during the most challenging postures! But why? Why place so much emphasise on this seemingly automatic bodily function.

Well in yoga we working on many levels, not just the physical. We attempt to bring peace and tranquility to the mind as well. We all know how hard this is. Just try now to clear your mind of all thoughts and worries. Practically impossible! So we use the breath as our tool to achieving a better connection with our deeper selves. Imagine that the breath is the bridge between the body and mind. Most people already know this to greater or lesser degree. How many times have we heard a friend say to us when we are feeling nervous or stressed –  “Take a breath!”

When we are able to keep the breath smooth, continuous, slow and quiet, the mind comes along, and also becomes calm and peaceful. Yet the motion along this bridge isn’t “one-way” traffic. Once the mind is calm then the body also comes along, and relaxes. Think of a round-about with the signposts: breath > mind > body.

Encouraging this connection not only  increases awareness but also promotes health and well-being. Practising the basic breathing technique below can help counteract poor habitual breathing habits. Breathing well and using the full range of our respiratory muscles improves our blood circulation, the brain receives more oxygen improving alertness, memory and mood. Stresses placed on the heart and entire body are also reduced thus improving general energy levels.

Changing lifelong breathing habits is not easy to begin with. It takes time to retrain the body. A nice simple and comfy technique you might like to try is some simple “belly breathing”. Not always easy if you’ve been used to “sucking in” the tummy. Find a space you can lay down on the floor comfortably. Use a small pillow under head, and bend the knees so your feet are flat on the floor. If there’s any discomfort in the back, you may like to have your lower legs raised on the seat of a chair. Rest your hands on your tummy or place a small “sandbag” or gentle weight of some kind. This will help you get a sense of this area as you breathe. Relax the belly completely and simply begin to take some deep breaths. Feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly. If you like visualise the breath filling this area. Just as if you are gently inflating and deflating a balloon. Keep it all soft, and deepen the breath a little if you can. Practise this for a few minutes, and notice any differences you may feel.

If you find it beneficial, why not go along to a local yoga class. A wide range of breathing techniques can be practised that have varying benefits and effects.

Learning how to breath properly can improve your performance in everything you do. Master the breath and master everything!

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