Learning how to breathe
A focus on breathing is an important part of yoga. Breath provides a focus so that our mind has something to do, because we get so caught up in the busyness of our mind.
So when we're focusing on the breath, that helps to slow down the busy mind, but also if it's possible we learn to match the movement with the breath. So that the movement supports the breath and the breath support the movement.
In yoga we do big expansive sort of movements on the inhale, and more forward, closing movements on the exhale to support the expansion and contraction of the lungs.
Focusing on the breath is very quietening for the mind. Steadying for the mind.
Unlearning poor breathing habits
We unlearn some poor habits that we may have had that may be restricting our breath, as well.
We forget the way that we're born to breathe. So normally what happens is everything expands. The chest and the belly expand as we inhale. The diaphragm muscle pushes down, the belly rises and then as we exhale, the navel draws back, the ribcage draws in and that chest cavity becomes smaller to exhale. So learning to breathe correctly is important.
Often people do it round the wrong way. We hold in our belly. We're conditioned to hold in our belly all the times for that looking 'beautiful' posture.
We forget that actually doesn't support good breathing, it doesn't support our natural breath, and some people actually reverse breathe, they hold it in on the inhale instead of letting it expand, and that doesn't support healthy breathing.
Another bad habit is to breathe through the mouth. Ideally we breathe through our nose, because the nose is designed to filter and moisten and warm, so there's less of a shock when the air gets to the lungs. We also don't finish the inhalation sometimes before we exhale, or we don't finish the exhalation, because we want to grab the next bit of breath before we inhale. These poor habits, unfortunately don't support healthy breathing in the long term.
Often it's stress as well. That gets us and we end up over breathing, or getting that high chest breathing and raise our shoulders and that just stimulates the stress response even more.
Good Yogic Breathing
In a yogic sense a normal inhalation and a normal exhalation and maybe the exhalation slightly longer than the inhalation, and with a pause to complete the inhalation before the exhalation starts and a pause after the exhalation, before the inhalation starts is ideal.
This can be hard for some people like asthmatics. Luckily for humans though, we keep breathing anyway, even when we're not focused on it.
A lot of what we do in yoga are movements that expand our chest. So tight muscles across the front of your chest occur when we are feeling stressed. These things all restrict our breathing, so it is better to learn to relax and focus on our exhalation. Focusing on that long slow exhalation can be a way to really help people de-stress and to sort of uncover their natural breath, it's always there, but we just get into those poor habits. The long slow exhalation is important because that really helps to counter the effects of the stress response.
The focus on breathing that you get from doing yoga is helpful in your everyday life. It's part of the strategy of getting out of the 'busy mind', so that we can just be a bit more steady, a bit more focused, a bit more present with our life, and focusing on our breath is one of the strategies that we can use to do that.
It suits, some people, it doesn't suit everyone.
There's a group of people who find trying to focus on their breath stressful because they're concerned that they don't breathe properly.
So for those people they could focus on some words or something different, a picture or something, just because those people are going to get stressed if you try and help them with their breathing, initially at least.
In a stressful situation we tend to shallow breathe. That just becomes a stimulating the stress response thing. So to counter that, drawing the navel back and slowing the exhalation, letting the shoulders drop, even though your mind's racing because you're figuring this stressful situation out. If you don't actually have to run from the tiger right at that point, then you do the long slow breathe out and so, inhaling naturally, and then, you know, maybe even counting the long slow breath out. And you can watch yourself do it and you can actually watch your body, sort of counter the stress response.