Take a breather.
We tend to think of breathing as a simple, involuntary action, something that happens without awareness. For the most part it is, yet in yoga we use the breath in a conscious and deliberate way. We use the breath to move through the postures, breathing through and into them to help us concentrate and tune in to our own bodies.
Sometimes I will come into a class feeling stressed or upset about something, and through the process of regulated and conscious breathing will almost by “accident” get over it and calm down. One of the first things you learn in yoga is that our movements should mirror our breath, if you are squeezing your breath into you posture and being caught short of breath, then you are pushing too hard. Equally when in a posture which you are finding difficult you can use the breath to let go of the physical tensions in the body and breathe through it. I remember when I first started practicing being told that sooner or later I’d find myself using my yoga in my day-to-day life, bringing the lessons I learnt on the mat out with me when I left. Learning to really feel your breath and to control it can be a great tool in daily life. Whether it is getting your body to relax and stop firing off stressful thoughts and hormones so you can tackle a difficult task, or winding down your brain when you can’t sleep.
Breathing consists of two actions: inhaling puraka, and exhaling rechaka. The action of breathing starts when we are born and continues until our last breath when we die. The state of inertia when we are neither inhaling nor exhaling is referred to in yoga studies as kumbhaka. The halt after inhaling is called abhyanatara kumbhaka and after exhaling bhaya kumbhaka.
Pranayama (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit word meaning the “extension of the life force”. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words: prana “life force” (the breath) and ayama to extend or to draw out. Pranayama is the fourth “limb” of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga and is presented as an exercise that is preliminary to concentration.
Breathing is the process of taking in this vital prana energy and removing waste products from our body and mind. Ancient texts say that the retention of air will increase the level of prana in the body, whilst regulating the flow of pranic energy through the body. Our minds are closely related to the breath. Perhaps you have noticed that when you are calm and relaxed your breathing is smooth and slow. If you are stressed breathing is fast & shallow but mostly through the chest. When one gets angry, the breathing becomes fast and forceful, in depressed states sighing, when in pain gasping, in anxiety shallow and rapid. Our mental and emotional states affect our breathing, and vice versa.
If you’re interested in learning more check out this easy guide to pranayama breathing:
http://workouttrends.com/pranayama-beginners-guide (scroll down for the guide!)