Close your eyes, inhale deeply through your nose... and exhale through your mouth. This is often the first exercise I have my students perform before moving into their yoga postures. Why? Because yoga is just as much about the breath as it is the postures. This simple gesture invites us to be present, and to make the connection between the visible world of matter to the invisible world of energy. There are constant distractions throughout the day vying for our attention, so learning where to direct our energy is a skill and an art that can be cultivated through practicing yoga. Try it. Take a moment to consider the effects. How does this act make you feel physically? Emotionally?
One’s breath can become shallow, rapid, sluggish, excited or dull (amongst other sensations) and is often a reflection of the state of the mind. Learning to listen to the breath allows us to see where our vitality is being created or compromised. It can help us shift from being scattered to attentive as well as address what is important and meaningful in our practice. In yoga, there are many techniques to breath work, such as Pranayama, which is breath/energy restraint. Asana, or posture, is another technique that precedes Pranayama on the eight-limbed path of yoga (the structural framework for yoga practice.) I teach Vinyasa flow yoga, so the breath is very much the force that drives the practice.
The mind/body connection is a powerful force for understanding how we create and understand our reality. Taking a deep breath when we feel overwhelmed can shift our mind, engaging it with a positive force that can help make the situation manageable. Sitting in a yoga pose and letting yourself to breathe through uncomfortable moments allows old patterns, wounds and even trauma to be revealed and released. It's a way to move through resistance and respond with ideals that are rooted in compassion and understanding. The breath is the breeding ground for transformation, not only of our bodies but also our mind, psyche and energy.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you’re new to yoga. There's a lot of emphasis on aligning and refining yoga poses. Some come to yoga via dance or gymnastics, so the physical aspect of the practice may come more easily to those who have active backgrounds, but the mastery of yoga is not in coveting and perfecting poses. These are simply gateways to refining our connection to the Self and to aligning with the essence of who we are and what our purpose in this world is. That may sound daunting, but how liberating is it to know you don't need to be perfect in or out of a yoga pose? There’s no such thing.
Breathing is the key. In conjunction with the poses, breathing helps us turn inside ourselves so we can polish the mirror of our self-perception, allowing us to see our beauty and brilliance. This is the vision that will help us create a life that we love. So next time you feel overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths through the nose and gently release them through your mouth. With each inhale, visualize what you need to feel nourished, and then exhale any emotion you consider counter-productive. If you’re feeling unbalanced, take a slow inhale on a count of four and exhale on the same four count to regain that balance. There are always going to be stresses in our lives that challenge us. Developing a yoga practice that emphasizes breath will reveal your holding patterns of stress, and this exercise will help you to self-regulate that emotion.
Learn to listen to your needs. It will assist you in understanding two fundamental relationships, self-love and self-understanding, which, when combined, unite us with the most important relationship we have—the one with our Self.