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In your average yoga class found in most parts of the world today, great attention is devoted to the physical performance of postures and for good reason. The body is the vehicle carrying us through life and it’s important that it remains fit, coordinated, vitalized and healthy.
We also to need to be comfortably in command of it. Yogic breathing however, plays just as big a role in getting the most from our practice. The breath is also one of the biggest factors in what makes yoga different from any other exercise. It has tremendous influence on our attitude, cognitive ability, emotional management and even our world view.
“Without conscious regulation of breath there can be no yoga”
Having fun exploring the body through postural advancement is a great way to constructively fulfill our fitness needs. All too often, attention is overly devoted to the physical and we don’t learn much about the power of yogic breathing beyond the experience of Ujjayi. Learning how to regulate the breath using yogic breathing techniques is a game changer not just in yoga but off the mat as well.
I’m going to share with you some basic fundamentals about how to shape and regulate your breath to get more out of your practice. Just by focusing on the quality of your breath during your practice you can dramatically increase the benefits you receive. Here are a few tips:
We can get a great deal of satisfaction knowing we have control over the body and its faculties when performing demanding poses. But all too often when if we strive for high levels of physical achievement we lose sight of the breath and quite possibly have even stopped breathing altogether.
Holding the breath as a result of challenge will not only make your experience more intense, but even worse, it brings certain defeat through asphyxiation. You’ve stopped breathing.
When we’re over challenged or try too hard, we often hold the breath or reduce it to an unsustainable level. We’re then fighting the pose, ourselves, or both, thus resulting in the benefits we seek being minimized or most likely inviting negative results by creating stress. We want to worker smarter not harder.
The nest time you find your self in a demanding situation take notice of your breath and try to breath patiently deeper. Keep the breath consciously regulated and take notice of the calm, the clarity, and how the difficulties you were facing begin to fade. What will eventually follow is an experience that is pleasantly rewarding. With just a little practice this tip can bring big changes in not just your performance but your attitude. Give it a try.
Of course the we are working hard our rate of respiration increases. This is pretty normal. Or is it? The pace of our breath increases to supply the body with more needed oxygen. Speeding up the breath is only ins way to increase the oxygen supply. But as the breath picks up so does our stress response. There is a another way. Breathe more deeply. Try to refrain from breathing faster and breathe more deeply. This help keep you supplied with your oxygen requirements while keeping you more calm and less aggressive.
The speed of the breath and stress response / anxiety are directly related. So again through consciously regulating the breath, this time in regards to depth you’ll find yourself more capable, more aware and certainly more calm.
Disturbances to the mind are reflected in the quality our breathing patterns. This is one of the basic and important understandings of yogic breathing. What is actually quite beautiful is that the sages have given us a variety of tools to manage and even eliminate these disturbance by simply regulating the quality of our breath. We don’t have to wrestle with the mind it will usually just fall into a peaceful state when the breath takes the center stage of our focus and we manage it peacefully.
As yogis we attentively focus on the breath with the clear intention of what a smooth and rhythmic breath looks like, and feels like and then patiently invite it to takes the form of our intention. A smooth and rhythmic breath no doubt a tool that can lead us to peace in almost any situation. But this takes practice. Sometimes it easy and others time not. But the more we practice the easier it gets and our success rate in achieving a state balance with the breath increases.
Once you’re in a pose or even in a flow. Try to let the breath lead. focus on smooth, undisturbed breathing and let it find a repetitive rhythm. Be patient as the little bumps or stutters in the breath begin to fade. Think of the disturbances you experience as waves across the surface of the ocean. Your intention is to let these disturbance just like the oceans waves dissolve into the depth of its experience. So we each passing breath you begin to see a little more smoothness and a little more rhythm.
In the next segment of this article I’ll offer you some more tools to help with this. But for now try the power of intention. Visual or sense what the breath would feel like, what it would look like in an expression of rhythmic balance and watch your intention come to life.
One of the main reasons we might find this difficult is a lack of patience. Never force the breath the breath into balance, invite it to find its way. Imagine a loving parent encouraging their child to take its first steps or even to stand. These are precious moments of achievement.
A loving parent would not force the child. but would hopefully encourage the child with loving guidance and patiently await the success without disappointment and with out scolding the child. Love, compassion, patience and clarity of vision will take you far and most likely reduce the time it takes to learn anything. Give out a try. It works.
The postures of yoga are perhaps more accurately understood as forms we create with the body, then specifically and attentively breathe into. This vitalizes and even resuscitates life energy in a very particular way which offers specific results. Its very common to breathe away from our challenges in a pose in an attempt to shield ourselves by separating from its experience.
When ever you perform a posture always leave room to breathe and direct your breath calmly compassionately, and consciously into the challenge as you patiently invite the breath to do its work.
Think of the breath and its attitude as an agent of dissolution that can effectively wash away tension, pain, and even emotional debris. Engaging the body and breath in this way can dramatically influence more positive mental states, attitude and awareness and even invite muscles to relax increasing flexibility. It’s also a key element in advancing our practice of yoga.
Never fight the challenges that arise. Let attitude and breath dissolve the challenges. This simple tip works extremely well.
Just as the attitude and power of an ocean is determined by its swell, its winds and waves, the challenges we face, the quality of our breath, and the fluidity our actions influence our attitude, emotional state, mental acuity and the ability to express our creative force. Knowing how to direct the breath specifically into a posture as we are experiencing it can exponentially increase the benefits we get from its experience.
Physical postures in a yogic practice are important tools and a necessary element of our foundation experience, but its only the beginning. Yogic breathing as a tool is not only powerful but should be the primary ingredient to yogic practice and experience.
There is no tool more powerful to the yogi than breath. It is itself the gift of life. Learning how to consciously manage the use of breath in practice can deliver the practitioner into the true experience of yoga all on its own. In Part 2 of “Yogic Breathing”. I will share will you some more tools to help refine your use of breath in practice.
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