The significance of the breath is what makes yoga unique from many other practices. It is what transforms it into a holistic and mindful science. We breathe all of the time; 24 hours a day! But how often to we stop to pay attention to our breath? Yet our breath is often a complete reflection of our emotional state. When we are deeply relaxed, our breath naturally becomes slower and deeper down in the lungs. We we are stressed or anxious, we may notice our breathing become more rapid or shallow, often felt higher up into the chest area.
During our yoga practice on the mat, we have the opportunity to tune into the breath; to notice its quality, pace and texture. Even the simple art of mindfully paying attention to the breath often has speedy effects. The benefits of paying attention to the breath are felt physically, physiologically and psychologically.
When we coordinate our movement with the breath or explore the breath in a posture, our movement and physicality becomes more productive and efficient. We have a 360° capacity to breathe; the lungs expand forwards and backwards, side-to-side, and up and down. During our practice on the mat, we work with enhancing this capacity by preparing, strengthening and stretching the muscles that support these actions. As a result, we maximise our respiration potential.
Physiologically, the breath has a direct response on the autonomic nervous system; regulating whether we are in sympathetic (fight or flight mode) or parasympathetic (rest and digest mode). When we coordinate our movement with our breath, practice pranayama techniques, or even simply focus on slowing and deepening our breath, our respiration become for effective. This directly impacts us in myriad ways; for example, our heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, hormones and the quality of oxygen supply to the muscles.
When we master the ability to pay attention to and manage our breath we begin to master our own ability to and manage our emotions; a natural and necessary aspect of us but also one that can sometimes feel imbalanced or outside of our influence. When we are able to manage our own breath, we have the direct ability to switch on our own relaxation response.
This months sequence is focused on ‘Emodying the Breath’. We will prepare the body for optimal breathing capacity and efficiency; strengthening and stretching the muscles to create more space for the breath. We will practice paying attention to the breath, coordinating our movement with our breath, and switching on our parasympathetic response; ultimately aiding relaxation and healing.