Saturday, March 9, 2013

Student Q&A: How-To-Breathe

Lately, I've had several beginner-level students ask me after class about breathing, and how to "do it right." 
This is a really common concern and one that deserves a proper response.

First, there is no "wrong way," to breathe. Of all the many behaviors we complete, this is one that will happen whether we are thinking about it or not. That said, there are ways to breathe that are more efficient for certain activities. Unlike most activities, yoga asks that we pay close and conscious attention to how we are breathing. This can pose a challenge in-and-of itself, as having to notice something that you have never had to notice before will bring about new insights and ideas. 

I like to explain it like this: our breathe is like fuel for our bodies. When we are doing something like yoga, we need fuel to move us along in a way that is supportive and efficient. The breath delivers energy to our physical body as we are challenging it with the effort of strengthening, stabilizing and lengthening it's various layers. By bringing a greater amount of oxygen into the blood supply, we are able to "fuel" our muscle body while also releasing waste material that can get in the way of clarity (in the physical and mental layer). 

Whether you are inhaling when the instructor says to exhale or vice versa, as long as you are breathing, you are on a path toward more efficient energy use. Typically, there are movement patterns that make more sense to do with a particular part of the breath. For example, cat pose is generally instructed with an exhalation as the physical structures in the body draw toward the mid line and contract, much like the anatomy of an exhale causes the respiratory muscles to (essentially) draw together. However, there is an argument for switching the breathing pattern, as in performing the shape of cat pose while inhaling. 

Secondly, simply noticing that you, "don't know how to breathe," or "don't get the breathing exercise," offered in class that day is a remarkable insight! 
As one of my teachers says, "Confusion is a form of clarity."
Part of the process of yoga is realizing when something is confusing, over-your-head, strikingly clear and even unremarkable. We all have moments of grasping for perfection, beginner or master. The important thing to know is that with practice, it all becomes clearer and easier. up to class, pay attention to how you are breathing, and find the flow of your own breath as it fuels you to move and synchronize with that space within that is already complete. 

Enjoy this compilation [YouTube video below] while continuing to surf the interwebs! 

Be well,

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