I think we, as yogis, often think of the breath and the pose as two different things. Because of this, the breath often gets left to the way side. Which is why I’m constantly reminding yogis in class to use their breath to stay centered.
Let’s look at this a bit. What if the breath is PART of the pose? I think that this is the true way to practice yoga. That, instead of thinking that the pose is cake and the breath is ice cream, think of it as ice cream cake. And who doesn’t like ice cream cake? Okay, well, maybe you don’t, but I do. Mmmm…ice cream cake….
So, how do we incorporate the breath into the pose so it becomes part of the pose, just as much as putting your feet in the proper place and relaxing your shoulders? One way is to incorporate movement with the breath in the pose. For example, in most poses you can lengthen the spine with each inhale. The exhale can be placed in many places. Maybe exhaling while pressing the feet into the earth, or exhaling and going a little deeper into the pose. It’s important to remember that these “movements” are micro-movements, more of an intention of movement than actual movement. For example:
Dancer/Standing Bow: Inhale and puff up the chest. Exhale and kick deeper into the pose.
Half Tortoise: Inhale into the back of the lungs expanding between the shoulder blades. Exhale and draw the belly button into the spine to stretch the lower back.
What about poses that you are truly stagnant? For example, balancing poses like Tree? You can use the same idea: inhale and lengthen the spine, exhale and engage the abs or press the feet into the ground. But I think there is another use of the breath in a balancing pose like Tree.
Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
The breath can be used as an anchor. It keeps you calm and steady. When in balancing poses like Warrior 3 or Eagle, focusing on the breath can help maintain the pose. It takes you deeper into the pose so you can be aware of every detail while balancing. The breath turns a balancing pose into a meditative pose. You can use the breath to keep the mind from wandering and taking you out of the pose.
The wisest one-word sentence? Breathe. ~ Terri Guillemets
Finally, breath is a part of the pose because, in most cases, when you forget to breathe, when you hold your breath, you are not optimizing the pose. In most cases, if you are holding your breath, you are clenching your muscles. And, in most cases, if you are not breathing and instead clenching, you are most likely clenching your neck or jaw. Our body thinks that holding the breath and tightening these muscles will help keep you upright. In reality, you are just wasting energy. Instead, it’s important to focus on breathing and retrain the body to tighten the muscles you are actually using in the pose, such as the abdomen and leg muscles. So, breath is an important aspect of the pose itself. Just as it is important to make sure you have the proper pose alignment, it is important to make sure you are breathing.
I noticed every time I felt overwhelmed, I would hold my breath. I had to learn to stop, relax, and take long deep breaths, and within seconds I would feel more clear and ready to deal with the situation in a more loving way. ~ Gisele Bundchen
Let’s take the idea of breath a step further into the “pose of life.” In reality, our yoga practice is just a reflection of our day-to-day life. And our day-to-day life is a reflection of our practice. This is why doing yoga keeps us calmer off the mat. And this is why it is harder to relax in our practice when we are having issues in our day-to-day life. However, learning how to relax on the mat teaches us how to relax in life. And learning how to breath in a pose teaches us how to breath in life.
Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. ~ Etty Hillesum
For example, when you get into an uncomfortable pose, breathing helps to calm the body and breathe through the uncomfortable. If you hold your breath when you are uncomfortable in a pose, it just makes everything worse. The same is true for uncomfortable situations in life. Often times, in life, when we are faced with an uncomfortable situation we tense our muscles, hold our breath, our mind starts to spin and we forget to think. This just makes the whole situation worse. But if we remember to take three deep breaths we can find calm again. If we have learned on the mat that breathing helps keep us calm and in the moment, we can take that lesson to that real life situation. AND, just like a yoga pose, the uncomfortable moment will not last forever. So just breathe through it.
The quality of our breath expresses our inner feelings. ~ TKV Desikachar
Breath is the key to everything. It is the first thing we do when we come into this world, and it will be the last thing we do when we leave. It is with us every day, every moment, even though we aren’t paying attention to it. It is a powerful tool that no only keeps us alive, it helps us cope and it helps us stay focused. It is a signal when something is wrong and we hold our breath or breathe faster. It is a signal when something is right when we sigh with contentment.
Take some time to pay attention to your breath. Take some deep breaths and feel the love it gives back. Feel the life that comes with it. Feel the gratitude it brings. Just as breath is a part of the pose, the breath is a part of life.
Breathing is the greatest pleasure in life. ~ Giovanni Papini
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