So we all know breathing is super important. Working with the breath in Yoga helps us to find our mind-body connection, when we are sitting out in the ocean we feel connected, focused, mentally prepared to take the next wave. Physically, over time, we are gently stretching our intercostal muscles which slowly help to increase our lung capacity. Traditionally in Yoga, breath is referred to as Pranayama. Pranayama helps to nurture a high level of bodily health and mental clarity.
In this months article, we will be working with our breath rather than postures, however Pranayama is introduced slowly to our practice as the effects both physical and mental can be subtle yet also very powerful. I recommend practising Pranayama as its own practice and then when you are ready incorporate into a wholesome Yoga practice with Pranayama and Asana. Asana can be distracting when focusing on the breath so let’s take and enjoy this opportunity to just breathe.
Through the previous articles we have been working with a very basic yet fulfilling breath. We are going to move this on slightly as I take you through two breathing techniques: Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath) which you can then take into your Asana practice and Nadi Shodhana (Alternative Nostril Breathing) a breathing technique to obtain balance and focus. This can be practiced at the beginning or end of your Asana practice.
So to start, come into a seated position. Either using a block or a folded blanket sit in a comfortable cross legged position. You can place further blankets under the knees if you require (there should be no pressure within the knee joint). Sit with your spine long (chin neutral) and your pelvis tilted forward. Allow the arms to rest in the lap or on the knees. Close your eyes and start to focus on the breath. Notice how your breath sounds, what patterns it follows. Do not try to lengthen or shorten the breath, just take notice. Now start to focus on making the breath smooth and regular. ￼
Let’s look at the movement of the breath within the lung; try to distribute the breath evenly across the whole lung – focus on reaching the breath into the areas of the lungs which feel dark and unfilled. Keep your belly soft and lift the breath on each inhale from the belly into the rib cage. As you inhale your ribcage will expand gradually and in time start to gently stretch the intercostal muscles of the rib cage.
You may have previously come across the most common breath in Yoga – Ujjayi Pranayama, also known as Victorious breath. Ujjayi breath is breath with sound, and can be incredibly focusing. To work with Ujjayi breath you need to locate and narrow the root of the throat. A way to identify this spot is to open your mouth, inhale and notice where the air touches your throat. When you have found this close your mouth, inhale through the nose and allow the breath to touch here, you will feel a slight narrowing and hear a gentle sound similar to the ocean washing up on the shore. Practice Ujjayi breath for 5 or so minutes, focusing the mind completely on the breath and allow the breath to resonate with you.
The second breath I am going to take you through is Nadi Shodhana – Alternative Nostril Breathing. Taking up the same seated position using the blanket or block, lift your right hand. For this breath we adopt what is called a mudhra; curl the index finger and middle finger of the right hand into the palm of the hand, extend thumb, ring finger and pinkie finger. Lift your right elbow and draw the hand towards the nose. Use the thumb to close off the right nostril, release and very lightly do the same motion with the ring finger and pinkie. ￼
To start Nadi Shodhana inhale through both nostrils and softly closing the right nostril with the thumb exhale lightly through the left nostril. Inhale through the left nostril and changing the hand position close off the left nostril with the ring finger and pinkie, exhaling slowly through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril. This is one round of Nadi Shodhana. Continue complete rounds for 5 minutes or so, closing off the right nostril slowly exhale through the left nostril, inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. You can imagine the breath travelling across the bridge of the nose. When you are ready to finish, release the hands and allow the breath to return to its natural rhythm. You may then want to relax back in full or supported Savasana for a few moments, allowing the whole body to relax fully into the support of the mat.
I am sure some of you reading this may be sceptical about these breathing techniques and how they can help you, but please give them a go when you have a few quiet moments and just see how they make you feel.
Emma Lovick from Hang Ten Yoga is a certified instructor and specialises in teaching Yoga to surfers in South Devon. She looks closely at the breath, alignment, strengthening, opening and increased flexibility, reducing the potential for injury. Emma also teaches SUP Yoga in Devon throughout the summer, so you never have to be off the water!