Updated: Feb 27, 2018
Breathing is something we all do naturally, we do it on autopilot, but when we are mindful of our breathing we can use it to make our lives a whole lot better. It is something that Yogis have known all along and has now been confirmed through scientific research, mindful breathing is one of the most beneficial and effective methods you can use to lower stress levels, improve metabolism, mood and reduce anxiety. Mindful breathing simply means being aware and paying attention to your breath and understanding how you can manipulate it to your advantage.
The mind and the breath are inextricably linked, find balance between the two in order to create balance in your mental and physical health and wellbeing. We know that our breath often changes in response to our emotions, if we feel upset or panicky our breath quickens and becomes more shallow. If we try to be calm, we might find ourselves naturally taking a long, deep breath and releasing the breath quickly to sigh or ‘let out steam’ or stress. By becoming more aware of your breath and how you are able to use it as a tool, can benefit you both in your yoga practice and throughout the day.
Below are 5 ways harnessing the power of your breath can improve your yoga practice.
1. Give your mind a break and stay present
By placing your attention onto your breath you are able to give your mind a little break. Just as discussed in our Yoga hack: find focus in 5 easy steps, by focusing on your breath you can create space in your head for quiet and calm.
When your breathing changes, this tells you that something is happening in the mind - either you are becoming more calm as your breath slows and deepens; or more stressed as your breath becomes more rapid. You are often able to recognise and become more aware of your thoughts when you become aware of your breath. Listen to both your breath and your mind to ensure that you are fully focused with a sense of clarity. By focusing on your breathing you are able to stay present and fully engaged in your yoga practice, focusing on every movement and your sensory experience of it.
Once your flow is complete, you will really feel the benefits of having stayed in the present moment throughout your practice. Feeling accomplished and calm, hopefully helping you to extend this focus on the present moment throughout your day.
2. Physical: balance and flexibility
Harness the power of your breath to improve your balance and flexibility. When you are about to wobble out of your dancer pose, stay focused and calm, preempt the movement of the body by engaging your core and breathing deeply. Breathe out and ground yourself, then sink lower or push yourself even further in the pose.
You can use the timing of your breathing to hold that pose for that little bit longer, or sink lower into poses that increase flexibility.
3. Find your flow
By focusing on the timing of your breathing during yoga, you can ensure that you flow seamlessly in and out of movements. When you time your breath effortlessly with your movements, you can keep your mind clear and enjoy the movement of the body in and out of positions. For example, exhaling during twists and as you bend into forward folds; if you empty your lungs you make your torso more compact allowing you to deepen your positions and reap the benefits.
As you enter into a chest-opening backbend, such as camel pose, deep inhalation will increase the space in your chest cavity, providing more room for your lungs and rib cage to fill with air. This allows you to use your positions to their optimum advantage, reaping the benefits of breathing in while pumping blood to your muscles.
Use your breath to energise both your mind and body. Inhalation increases the heart rate and pumps blood and oxygen around your body to all your muscles. Exhalation detoxifies your system by releasing CO2.
A technique that can be used to increase oxygenation throughout your body is breath retention. If you inhale deeply and fill up your lungs, hold the breath in for 10 seconds, you will find you are able to draw in more breath before the need to exhale again. This is because holding your breath increases pressure inside your lungs giving them greater capacity to fully expand. By doing this, when the blood travels to your muscles, heart and brain, it will be more oxygenated, making you feel more energised.
Breathing is an excellent way to promote relaxation throughout your body. It is a great place to start if you feel your mind racing and your heart rate increasing due to mental or physical stress. To relax, let your breath flow deep into your body without forcing it. Breathe regularly and gently, in through your nose and out through your mouth. To regulate your breathing you can count your breaths as you go, for example try counting to five, pausing the breath and then letting it flow out of you calmly. See our Yoga hack on focus for a breathing exercise that help reduce anxiety instantly.
Once you harness the power of your breath and understand how you can use it to enhance your yoga practice, you will instantly reap the rewards. Working with your breathing is a very personal part of your practice - only you can be the master of your own breath. Try the techniques above, but ultimately your breath and your mind is your own so tweak and improve them to make them work for you. Share any tips and techniques you use to harness the power of your breath with the Form community either on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Join the conversation.