Often described as a moving mediation, the focus on quality of breath is the key factor that distinguishes yoga from aerobic endeavors such as Pilates, Barre, or gymnastics. I had the pleasure of completing my 200hr Teacher Training with an instructor who recognized this as the essential element of a complete yogic experience. Our very first day of instruction was centered on “belly breathing”: softening our abdominal area, allowing our body to relax, and inviting a steady stream of oxygen into our lungs until they reached capacity. This softening of the core went against breathing techniques I had recently put into practice; however, at the mention of this alternative, my teacher advised: “Forget everything you know about yoga; we are learning from the ground up.” I did my best to oblige and began my yogic journey anew, with belly breathing as its foundation.
The Basics of Belly Breathing
Belly breathing goes against many tendencies we develop as a society. In an age where everyone wishes for six-pack abs, the ideal yogic core consists of a humble one-pack. Exercise enthusiasts may find the relaxation of their abdominals counter-intuitive and confusing; how does one engage their core effectively, yet breathe into it with ease? The answer is equal parts mental and physical.
Begin in a seated position, either cross-legged in easy-sitting pose or on your heels in hero’s pose. Close your eyes. Relax your body. Inhale lightly through your nose. Most will feel their upper chest and back fill with air. You might be surprised to learn that this is only the upper-most area of your lungs. Be conscious of your breath as you inhale and draw the air down into your diaphragm at the base of you core. As this lower section fills with air your stomach will round and balloon. You have begun to belly breathe! Release the breath slowly and repeat.
Yoga and Beyond
As this technique becomes more natural (and it should rather quickly) you will feel the calming, meditative effect wash over your body and mind. This results in a greater feeling of presence and somatic awareness, connecting you to your inner body. Once the belly breath has been established, begin to ease into your asana practice, being mindful of your breath as you move from pose to pose. It is the breath that will allow you to move deeper into the asanas and their variations, inducing the meditative state that many seek through yoga.
The applications of belly breathing extend beyond the yoga mat and can be used in everyday life with great effect. For a dose of instant calm in a stressful situation, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Follow the breath through your nostrils and down into your lungs, reaching the base of your abdominal region. Watch it enter and leave your body. Feel the mental and physical shift that takes place as you do so. With diligence and intention, belly breathing serves to maximize the benefit from every breath you take.
Not ready to practice on your own? Check out these local yoga studios for unbeatable introductory rates:
Portland, OR – The Bhaktishop Yoga Center, online classes available!
Salem, OR – Yoga Escape, refer a friend and receive a free month pass!
Eugene, OR – Everyday People Yoga, your first class is free!