In a Yoga class you will be encouraged to breathe deeply and ‘into the belly’. We call these deep breaths diaphragmatic breathing, this is because the diaphragm (the main muscle of respiration) is fully engaged when the breath is taken deeply into the lower part of the lungs.
Most of us have got into the habit of taking shallow breaths into the chest area as our natural breathing method, this breath doesn’t fill the whole lungs which triggers the brain into thinking we are short of breath. This is perceived by the body to be a stress response and triggers fight or flight reactions.
For many of us this means that we’re in a constant state of fight or flight, before we’ve even encountered a stressful situation.
Slow, deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and the body's relaxation responses.
Ok, so how do I do it?
To give it a try, and the best way to learn, is to lay flat on the ground (back on the floor) and place one hand on the chest and one on the belly. Start to relax the belly, breathe slowly through the nose and guide the breath deeper into the lungs by breathing deeply, slowly and consciously.
Try and manipulate the breath so that the hand on the belly rises with inhalation and falls with exhalation. The hand on the chest remaining still. Breathe like this for a few minutes, can you notice a change in your body or mind?
TOP TIP: For a deeper relaxation experience, manipulate the exhale to last longer than the inhale.
Maybe inhaling for 4 counts and exhaling for 6. Have a play with it!
And what are the benefits?
Diaphragmatic breathing turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, our ‘rest and digest’ responses. Heart rate and blood pressure reduce or stabilize, cortisol reduces, effects of anxiety and stress reduce.
Digestion improves along with concentration. Breathing consciously also helps us to feel ‘in the moment’ as we are bringing all our attention to the breath, it’s a great practice for mindfulness and clearing the mind of busy thoughts. The effects of diaphragmatic breathing can linger for up to 24 hours.
Yoga comprises of many components including breath work, physical work and mental work. Each Yoga class is different, but you will always find an emphasis on the breath. Working with the breath is a beautiful tool in Yoga as it gives us an ‘anchor’ to focus on.
This means that when we have wandering minds or unwanted thoughts we can bring our attention back to the sound and sensation of the breath to bring a clearer mind. Spiritually the breath is thought to bring ‘Prana’ or ‘life force energy’ into the body. But that is a whole other subject that I will tell you about another time!
I hope you’ve found this post useful, if you’d like to have a chat about breathwork or have any questions relating to Yoga please feel free to get in touch. My contact details are below.