Rest in the Breath
The breath facilitates our connection with body, mind and spirit during our yoga practice. In fact, the quality of the breath impacts us profoundly all day, every day. Rapid, shallow breathing contributes to anxiety, while long, slow breaths encourage relaxation. Posture and the muscles we use when we breathe also affect the quality of the breath.
The following breathing techniques help encourage relaxation by slowing down the breath. While they can be done at any time or place, the suggestions below will help optimize your practice.
- Practice in a warm, quiet space, as free from distractions as possible - the bed is not recommended, as it may encourage sleep
- Wear comfortable clothing so that the belly and chest can move freely - remove belts, glasses, and any restricting accessories
- Breathe through the nose. This creates 50% more resistance to air flow and helps filter out allergens and toxins.
- Feel the breath in the belly and allow the diaphragm to move freely.
- Release the practice and return to the natural breath if there is ever any discomfort or anxiety.
- Lie in a comfortable position on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, knees hip distance apart
- A rolled up towel or blanket can be placed length-wise along the spine from the waist to the back of the head to expand the breathing space (be sure the low back is comfortable)
- Keep the forehead and chin level, using a small pillow if needed
- A bolster or rolled blanket under the knees can help relax the back
- If lying down is not possible, sit on the floor or in a chair with a tall spine, open chest, and the shoulders relaxed
Before performing thefollowing practices, observe the breath for 10-15 minutes. Relax the body and allow the mind to rest on a sensation of the breath. Be curious and accept the breath as it is without controlling or judging. Notice any changes and enjoy the gentlemassage and rhythm of the breath.
- Lengthen the Exhale: Count the length of your inhale and exhale. Gradually lengthen the exhale one count at a time while keeping the inhale the same. Gently closing the back of the throat (as if you are fogging up a mirror with the mouth closed) can act like a valve. Patiently lengthen the exhale to possibly twice as long as the inhale. Never force the breath, as straining will encourage the stress response rather than relaxation.
- Peaceful Pause: Notice the pause at the end of each exhale and observe the peacefulness in that space. Rather than taking the next inhale by force of habit, wait until the body requests the next breath.
- Three Part Breath: Divide the inhale into three parts. Begin by filling the belly with the breath, next expand the ribs. Finally feel the heart lift and the upper chest expand as you complete the inhale. Allow the exhale to release first from the upper chest, then the ribs, and complete the exhale by emptying out the belly. Allow the breath to be smooth, without forcing it. This can be done in the opposite order as well.
Taking the time to nurture our breath through these practices can have profound effects on our health and well-being. Try them at home and see for yourself, or visit us at Nurture Yoga, where we teach many calming breath practices.