THE IMPORTANCE OF BREATH
Breathing is arguably the single most important aspect of yoga. You might say yoga is breathing. Of course, breathing is the mechanism that sustains life, It brings much-needed oxygen to our organs, muscles, and cells. But through coinscious breathing, we can actually regulate our mind-body system, When we feel stressed, we can soothe our nervous system, literally “short-circuiting” our stress hormones. By the same token, we can use our breath to energize our bodies and clear and refresh our minds. In a nutshell, when we purposely lengthen our exhalations, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us. When we purposely lengthen our inhalations, we increase the oxygen level in our bloodstream, which alleviates fatigue throughout our bodies and brains, Focusing on equalizing the length of our inhalations and exhalations brings our mind and body into balance. But, in order to do this, we must breathe correctly and with intention.
Have you ever watched a baby breathing? Babies come into the world breathing with their entire being. Their bellies fill up completely, rising and falling with each inhale and exhale. During childhood we begin to lose that gift. Over the years, our breathing becomes more shallow, tending to engage the ribs and shoulders rather than the entire torso. In fact, as children and adults, we typically only use about 25 percent of our lung capacity. Although this partial breath may be enough to sustain the body, it can lead to a multitude of problems, including sleep issues, poor focus, low energy, reduced endurance and strength, headaches, sluggish bodily functions, diminished fine motor control, and chronic anxiety. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself. Certainly, as parents and teachers, we’ve seen children struggle with the aforementioned issues, but we may not have associated them with improper breathing.
Take a minute to sit and breathe quietly. Sit up tall in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, or in Easy Pose . Notice your ability to slow and deepen your breath. Feel your belly rise, your ribs expand out to the sides, the slight lift under your collarbone. Exhale fully, hugging your collarbone and ribs into your heart and pulling your belly muscles back toward your spine. Continue on with this conscious breathing for one minute. If your mind starts to wander (and it will!), notice it is wandering and gently invite it to come back to focus once again on your breath. When you are finished, notice how you feel. Is it any different than how you felt a minute ago? How so?
Of all the physiological systems in the body, breathing is the only one we can consciously control. And this remarkable gift of having the ability to regulate our tiy own breathing allows us to manipulate our ability to respond and adapt, and even alter our state of being. All it takes is attention and practice.