Breath: My First Lesson in Yoga

 

“Your breathing is paradoxical”- said the yoga teacher in my first ever yoga class as an adult. I had never noticed my breath before. It made me wonder if there was anything to the breath that one needed to pay attention to.

That was over a decade ago.

In paradoxical breathing, during exhalation the chest is expanded and abdomen tensed and vice versa on inhalation. This may be due to excessive sensitivity to stimulation from external cues, receiving shock or surprise or being in disturbed state of mind.

The lesson had come to me at a time when I was seeking answers to many questions about life; little did I realise that it will lead to something that was going to change the course of my life.

I came to learn that different people breath differently, though they are all many ways of incorrect and inefficient way of breathing. But why should you bother with breath when it seems to be doing the job of keeping you alive? Because your breath is a window to your inner states – physical, mental and emotional. Breathing is the only physiological process that can be either voluntary or involuntary.

By altering your breathing pattern, you can amend your physical, mental and emotional states. This was a great eye-opener that pulled me in a direction to the answers I was seeking.

Your breath is a window to your inner states – physical, mental and emotional. Breathing is the only physiological process that can be either voluntary or involuntary. By altering your breathing pattern, you can amend your physical, mental and emotional states.

Later that year I attended the Himalayan Yoga Teacher Training program in Rishikesh. Many hours of training were spent on observation of breath, mechanics of breathing and practices of proper breathing, which were big revelations for a beginner like me. My breath was flawed in many ways and it seemed an uphill task to bring it to a systematic, efficient way of breathing.

Even the process of learning and beginners’ practices put me at ease and brought a state of mental calm and tranquillity I had not experienced before.

The four qualities of proper breathing:

#1: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Much of faulty breathing is a result of non-engagement of the diaphragm, a dome shaped muscle that separates chest and abdominal cavities. The breath becomes shallow and chest dominant; utilisation of lungs is reduced resulting in lowered level of oxygen absorption in the lungs. This overstimulates the sympathetic nervous system and creates feelings of stress and anxiety. When this becomes a habitual breathing pattern, we get locked in the mode of stress and anxiety. To reverse this and train the breath for diaphragmatic breathing, one can begin with simple breath
awareness – of inflow and outflow of the breath. Further strengthening of diaphragm can be learnt with practice of yoga postures like makarasana (crocodile posture) and śavasana (corpse posture). Gentle stretches, joints and glands exercises as taught in the Himalayan Yoga Tradition by Swami Rama are greatly beneficial in releasing the diaphragm for free movement.

#2: Smooth and Continuous Breathing

An untrained breath often becomes jerky with pauses between inhalations and exhalations. Emotions such as sorrow, pain and anger can cause this irregularity in breathing. You may have experienced this jerkiness of breath evidently in deep emotional state such as crying. A jerky breath indicates random, jerky thought process. The most encouraging part about training
the breath is that merely by paying attention to it, it begins to calm down.

#3: Silent Nasal Breathing

Our nostrils are specifically designed for the process of breathing. Among many functions the nose performs in the respiratory process, it filters, moisturises, directs the airflow, warms the air and creates mucus. Deposit of excess mucus in nostrils causes difficulty in breathing and one tends breath with greater force with sound or switches to breathing from the mouth. A gentle massage of sinus area and yogic kriyas such as jala-neti work to clear the nasal congestion. Physical exercises, walking and dynamic yoga practices such as Surya Namaskar are also effective way of clearing up excess mucus.

#4: Even Breathing

Respiration is consisted of two parts – inhalation and exhalation. Through this process, we receive and release gases that are critical to our survival. The actions of inhalation and exhalations are closely connected to our autonomic nervous system (ANS). Inhalation is associated with sympathetic nervous system and exhalation with para-sympathetic nervous system. An even breathing where inhalations and exhalations are in equal 1:1 ratio calm and balances the ANS. In such a state mind becomes clear, calm and alert.


In training of breath, one goes through many practices of correct body posture, gentle yoga stretches and asanas, relaxations and awareness of breath. To become aware of your breath is the greatest gift you can give to yourself, it is the first step in journey to your inner self.

For more information and guidance write to namita@urdhvayoga.com

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