Many people look at the contortions of yoga exercises and assume that it will be enough. That’s not quite the case, the asanas are only part of the process. The rest of it lies in controlled breathing during your session.
Are you wondering why stretching should be accompanied by deep breaths, read on and we’ll fill you in on an inseparable part of the yoga process.
The Two Components of Yoga: Pose and Breath
Yoga has a broad base of techniques, but all of them emphasize both the positions and breathing patterns in conjunction.
The physical portion of yoga can range from relaxing to strenuous, depending on the positions that you’re engaging in. These poses are collectively called asana.
The other portion is an emphasis on deep breathing. The most common form of breath is breathing deep into the diaphragm rather than shallowly in the upper chest. The discipline revolving around your breath is called pranayama.
Less common than advanced asana, there are other patterns of breath used in pranayama, but we’re going to focus on the standard breath used during a session of yoga.
The Core Breathing Method for Stretching
The core of pranayama is a deep, cyclical breath which should be held at the same tempo for the duration of your session.
When a modern human breathes, we tend to do so shallowly. This has an effect on both our physical and mental states. Many yogis say breathing this way at all times is essential for health.
You’ll breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth for most courses, as it’s the most natural way to do things.
Describing the breath is a bit hard, but you’ll know when you get it right. You should try sitting or standing up straight, preferably in Mountain Pose if you have some experience with yoga.
Bring in a deep breath through your nose. Very deep. You need to bring the air down to the lower part of your lungs instead of breathing with just your chest. Done correctly, your stomach will bulge a bit. While you’re not actually bringing air into your stomach, visualizing doing so during the breath will make it easier for those having trouble.
Once your lungs are full, then release the breath slowly until it’s been completely expelled.
Rinse and repeat.
You may find that you feel a bit different after a few rounds of breathing this way. That’s completely normal, especially for those who’ve never tried this kind of exercise before.
What Are the Benefits During Stretching?
So, why does stretching need to be accompanied by slow, deep breaths? There’s a lot to be said for maintaining this deep breathing while you’re getting stretched out.
The benefits are really across the board.
Physically, deep breathing will relax you and allow you to take deeper positions in the various asana or even regular stretches you’re doing.
It also counters the effects of shallow breathing. When you breathe with only your chest, you’ll find that you’re not getting as much oxygen as your body would get otherwise. Increased oxygen leads to better blood flow and a more alert mind, while you’re also relaxing.
In addition, the higher oxygen levels naturally lead to relaxation. There’s a reason that the first tool most therapists tell you to use is to breathe deeply: it works. Breathing deep will settle an anxious mind, and often bring a calm one to a deeper state similar to meditation.
This overall relaxation makes it much easier to get further into your stretches. There’s even a technique which involves using the breath and constant tension to break further into a stretch, although it’s not exactly a yoga technique.
More importantly: the combination of pranayama and asana creates a whole experience. These two techniques are the basis for Hatha Yoga, even though they only comprise two legs of this multifaceted art.
The traditional use of yoga wasn’t about fitness. Instead, it was something a bit less concrete: it was developed as a practical system of spirituality. You may not fall into the category of spiritual seeker but it’s always best to try something in its traditional form.
Breathing During Asana for the At-Home Yogi
Taking deep breaths during a guided class is one thing. Most instructors will aid you along the way while you’re going through the process.
For the person doing yoga at home, things are a bit different.
One of the best ways that I’ve found to learn proper breathing is a two-fold approach.
- Regular Sun Salutations with an emphasis on breathing. The exercise is comprised of a few poses that you’ll switch through while breathing. This basic exercise is perfect for more dynamic situations in yoga classes, and you can incorporate roughly the same rhythm into your home practice.
- Take up a relatively challenging asana. I prefer those with a lot of tension, such as Eagle or the Four-Limbed Staff pose. Use diaphragmatic breathing until you can no longer hold the pose, this trains you to breathe properly even during moments you’re straining your body.
Practice makes perfect, but the above two exercises will have you breathing properly in no time.
I hope this article about why stretching should be accompanied by slow, deep breaths answers the questions you had. The slow, deep breaths associated with Yoga aren’t just for show. They’re a tangible benefit to your practice and even a great idea during any other form of stretching. It’s hard to overstate the benefits, except to say that it really is half of the main yoga focus overall.
So, take a deep breath and get ready to dive in. Once you’re breathing right, the sky is the limit in your stretching performance.