28 May Yoga Off The Mat: Breath
One of the key ingredients of any yoga class is the breath. It’s a good indicator of how our practice is going. Following the breath keeps us present. It tells us if we are straining too much and allows one the ability to sustain and build the stamina for holding a pose, transitioning from posture to posture, and getting through the intense sensations that come up through a practice.
In Yoga, breath is considered the life giving force, prana. Pranayama is the practice of altering the breath through different techniques and exercises. Some of these practices include, Breath of fire; an even, rapid, and rhythmic inhale and exhale through the nose to increases physical endurance. Sitali pranayama; the practice of drawing air in through a curled tongue to provide a cooling and calming effect. Probably the most common way of altering the breath during yoga is through Ujjayi. Sometimes referred to as an ocean breath, it’s an audible breath created by inhaling and exhaling over the back of the throat.
“Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
Thích Nhat Hanh
When we practice altering the breath we become more aware of life force moving through us. We are also reminded that we can maintain control over the mind and body rather than be overwhelmed by the effects of stress on the body and mind.
The easiest way to take this idea off the mat is to simply begin to focus on the breath moving in and out through the nose, notice the lungs fill up and feel the ribs expand on the inhale, and then contract on the exhale. This can be done in stillness, while walking the dog, or especially when sitting in traffic.
Breath is a powerful resource that allows us the opportunity to be an active participant in relaxing the body, soothing the mind, and softening the heart. When we are able to maintain awareness through the power of the breath, we realize that only we are in charge of shifting our moods and steering through life with more presence.
About the Author: Pia Artesona can be found guiding Recovery Yoga and Vinyasa Flow at Bhakti Yoga Shala and Naam Yoga in Santa Monica, Sattva Yoga LA in Brentwood, and Liberation Yoga in Los Angeles. She also offers private yoga sessions.