Let’s pretend you’re new to Yoga, you’ve been taking classes at your local studio for a week, you think you’re finally remembering the difference between Warrior I and Warrior II poses, and one day, the teacher decides to take 10 minutes of class time to do breath work. Breath work? Isn’t Yoga about holding poses until your muscles are trembling and your legs are about to give out from under you? No, my friend, Yoga is all about the breath.
In Yoga, the breath is linked to all movement when performing postures and sequences. For example, as you reach your hands to the sky you inhale, and as you sweep your arms down to the earth you exhale. A good teacher will help you remember when to inhale and when to exhale, according to the poses you’re practising. By linking the mind to the breath and the breath to the body, your Yoga experience will become more meaningful, centred and even healthier.
Apart from the synchronised breathing practised while doing a Yoga sequence, your Yoga teacher will often do breath work at the beginning or end of class. There are many techniques such as Nadi Shodhana, Ujjai, Kapalabhati, Kumbhaka and more. These techniques have their individual benefits. (Blog posts about these individual techniques will soon follow!) Some breathing practices are for calming or uplifting the mood, some are good for managing hypertension or high blood pressure and some help with toning the abdomen or improving lung capacity.
So why is all of this breathing so important? If having a healthy blood pressure isn’t reason enough, think of the breathing exercises as an opportunity to get in tune to your body and mind. Sitting and only thinking about breathing for 10 minutes can take a load off your mind. I like to do breathing exercises because I consider it ‘easier’ than meditation and I don’t need a silent room to practice. It gives me a second wind if I’m in the middle of a big day and needing a little pick-me-up and I like the idea of doing something good for my body that doesn’t require my sports bra!
In a previous blog post I wrote about doing breath work as I commute on the bus to work.