“Inhale, raise your arms. Exhale, fold forward. Inhale, rise up to a half forward bend. Exhale step, or jump, back to Chataurunga.”
As a yoga student, I’m sure you recognize this phrase from just about every vinyasa class in which you’ve practiced. Ironically, the most frequent phrase I hear from students after teaching a vinyasa class is: “I love yoga, but I don’t get the breathing part.” That’s when I usually laugh and say, “Of course you get the breathing part! You’re alive!”
All humans inhale and exhale 24/7, but rarely are we aware of the breath in the course of our daily lives. It is during a yoga practice that we have the opportunity to become more aware of our respiratory patterns. We get to look at the quality, pacing, fullness, and texture of our inhalations and exhalations; we get to pause and appreciate the breath’s profound ability to create vitality and well-being. As we become more mindful of our breathing, naturally the question arises: Why do we need to bring awareness to the breath when respiration happens automatically?
The response is three-fold. First, on a physical level, if we coordinate movement with breath, movement becomes more effective and efficient. Then, from a physiological perspective, the breath regulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous responses (the autonomic nervous system). Finally, from a psychological viewpoint, this regulation can help us cultivate better stress management techniques. In other words, when we manage the quality of our breath, we have the ability to influence our relaxation responses.
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It is important to keep in mind that breath is three-dimensional. Our lungs expand and condense forward and back, side-to-side, and up and down. By preparing the muscles of the body to support these natural shape changes, your breath capacity will be greatly enhanced, movement will be more effective, and the reactions of the autonomic nervous system will sustain greater resiliency. Because most people have postural and muscular imbalances, the body needs to be primed through yoga postures to achieve maximum results from respiration.
The following sequence will prepare your body for optimal breathing and as a happy result, relaxation. By stretching and freeing up space in tight muscles, strengthening weak postural muscles, and toning the diaphragm—the major muscle of respiration—you will attain a deeper and more efficient breath.