Written by Suzanne de Swardt
“How long are we going to stay in this downward dog? Why is it so hot in here? Is the air con on? How long are four breaths anyway?” This is typically how I felt in the yoga class when I first signed up. My thoughts were all over the place and I didn’t feel the relaxing benefits of yoga until we finally got to Savasana.
Often during yoga practice, we tend to focus on the asanas or poses and we forget the importance of breathing or pranayama (prana=breath, yama=restraint). Breathing is essential for life and therefore essential during your yoga practice. The benefits of pranayama include increased lung capacity and blood flow, better circulation and it reduces stress, anxiety and tension.
We have all heard a yoga instructor say “breathe into the pose” but what does this mean and when are we supposed to inhale and exhale when the instruction is not given?
Here are some guidelines found in Yoga Journal’s blog post on February 28, 2018, that might help, https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/importance-breath-yoga
Ujjayi breathing, or ocean breath is a type of pranayama that could be used when practicing yoga asana. It calms the mind and decreases anxiety, stress and tension. Begin by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth making a “ha” sound like when you fog up a mirror with your breath. You will feel a constriction in the throat as you try to create the “ha” sound. Then close your mouth, inhale through the nose and exhale maintaining that sound and fogging sensation through the nose.
When lifting or opening inhale (Back bends and lengthening poses).
In a heart-opening pose you increase the space in your chest giving the lungs room to fill with air. The heart rate speeds up and more oxygen filled blood are pumped to the muscles.
When bending, folding or twisting exhale (Forward folds and spinal twists).
During exhalation the lungs are emptied, thus making the torso more compact and the heart rate therefore slows down inducing a relaxing response.
For example, breathing while flowing through a sun salutation:
Illustration by Janelize van der Merwe
It may all seem very daunting still, but don’t sweat it, over time it will become more natural and you won’t even think of when to inhale and exhale anymore. The most important thing is…just breathe.