Breathing for Beginners

The way we breathe has direct effects upon health, mood, posture and emotional and and psychological wellbeing; these effects are both immediate and long-term.

In yoga the breath is the link between the mind, body and spirit; it isat the centre and the foundation of yoga practice before we even get into the specific breathing techniques called pranayamas.

Breath Awareness:Take a while to sit quietly in a comfortable upright position and simply observe your breathing without trying to change it. Notice where in your body you are breathing

- In the chest, the abdomen, or high up in the chest, near the base of the throat? Be aware of the quality of the breath

- Is the breath deep, smooth and regular, or short, strained, shallow and uneven? Are you holding your abdominal muscles tightly or are they relaxed?

- Are you a ‘reverse breather’? If your abdomen extends or your chest lifts when you breathe out then this is the case. In order to breathe correctly and with the body’s natural mechanism, the abdomen and chest must expand on the inhalation. (Don’t worry if you found you were breathing in this way – anyone can learn to breathe correctly).

A deep, smooth, steady, and rhythmic flow of breath through the nose rather than the mouth is essential to good health. In order to breathe correctly, the respiratory muscles must be fully utilised. As we inhale, vital oxygen is drawn into the body as well as prana – the life force or energy (known as chi in Chinese systems). Therefore, the inhalation is energising and nourishing, whilst the exhalation has a detoxifying, releasing and relaxing effect, removing waste from the bloodstream via gaseous exchange in the lungs.

Exploring The Breath

There are 3 parts tothe breath: abdominal, thoracic and clavicular.

Abdominal breathing: also known as diaphragmatic breathing: Draw the breath deep into the body so that on the inhalation the navel extends forwards if you are upright, or rises if
you are lying on your back. It is the action of the diaphragm that causes the abdomen to expand when you breathe deeply in this way.

Abdominal breathing is calming, exercises the diaphragm, and enables the body to acquire plenty of oxygen and to effectively release waste products and tension. This is the correct way to breathe and the way we would have breathed naturally as babies; before tensions and holding patterns became established. We are taught to “hold it all in”, physically, in terms of having a flat stomach, and emotionally, and this contributes to distorted breathing patterns.

Thoracic (chest) breathing: Breathe deeply into the chest and feel the ribcage lift and expand on the inhalation. The action of expanding the ribcage works the lattice of
intercostal muscles between the ribs.

Clavicular breathing: The clavicles are commonly known as the collar bones. Try breathing into the upper chest just below the collar bones; it may help to place your
hands there. Over time, this form of shallow breathing can induce feelings of anxiety and lack of energy, so it is important to notice if this is your regular breathing pattern.

The Full Yogic Breath or 3-Part Breath: For the full yogic breath we pass through abdominal, thoracic then clavicular breath in one smooth inhalation so that the lungs are comfortably filled from the bottom to the top. The breath is exhaled in reverse order. It may feel unnatural at first. The 3-part breath is a yoga practice in itself. Try it for just 5 minutes and see how you feel. Either sit up with spine erect, or lie on your back; you can place the hands onto the different areas of the body as you go. Be sure to keep the breath smooth and even and above all don’tforce it. Stop, and return to slow, even, abdominal breathing if you feel faint or dizzy.

Jan Chant teaches Dynamic Yoga on Thursday mornings at 9.00am and Beginners Yoga on Friday mornings at 10.30am. Reserve your place.

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