A simple exercise that can be used to start practicing yoga at home
I think many people, if not everybody, have heard this simple and valuable piece of advice: “if something is bothering you or you are feeling anxious, take a deep breath.” It seems quite simple and helpful. As a result of observing my breath during my daily yoga practice for several years I have come to realize how the breath is the foundation of most, if not all, yoga techniques and how it could be argued that all of the postures and movements are basically a way to expand and deepen our breath. However, as I observe how students in my individual and group classes breathe I notice a remarkable yet not surprising trend, very often taking a deep breath does not look like a relaxing and invigorating experience. In fact, for a high number of people taking a deep breath seems to create more tension and even anxiety. What I notice is that the intention is correct, to deepen the breath; but when the actions include lifting up the shoulders and tensing up the jaw the effect is not calming and relaxing at all.
From a simple anatomical perspective a slouching posture tends to limit our breathing capacity by limiting the expansion of the ribcage. Try this: Take a moment, sit in a chair and let your chest collapse onto the abdominal area, round your shoulders forward and lower your chin slightly toward your chest. Then try to take 3 deep breaths. Notice the overall effects in body, mind and general state of being. Now let’s try a different posture to notice any difference(s): Slide your sitting bones to the front end of your chair. Separate your feet hip-width distance apart or slightly wider. See if it feels comfortable to align the knees above the ankles. Spread your toes, press your feet down, and activate the muscles in your legs to create a solid foundation. Then tuck the tailbone in to make the pelvis level and press down your sitting bones against the seat. With this solid foundation lengthen your spine and lift your breastbone up rather than forward. Let your arms fall to the sides and open comfortably while rolling your shoulders back and shoulder blades down. Now try 3 rounds of breath starting with soft belly expanding then allow the expansion to continue in your ribcage and finally in the upper chest without any tension in shoulders or jaw. Once again, notice the overall effects in your body, mind and general state of being. Most likely you will notice a difference in the length of the breath and its effects. You can even try to breathe the second way again and compare it with breathing while lifting your shoulders and bringing the chest forward. Through your own experience you will notice which way of breathing is deeper and most importantly which way of breathing feels more calming and relaxing. Please remember that no yoga technique creates new pain or strain. If you find yourself straining or forcing you are trying too hard. So, please make sure that your breath is never strained, ever.
In yoga we are trying to integrate all aspects of our being. This simple exercise is an excellent example of how our posture can influence our way of breathing as well as the way we feel overall. My suggestion is that the next time we need to take a deep breath we start by creating a solid foundation through our posture. Also, if you don’t have much time to practice yoga at home, this simple breathing exercise would be the best way to start practicing yoga at home, especially since it does not take more than a few minutes and the effects will be beneficial. If you practice regularly you will notice that in addition to feeling more calm and relaxed you might also feel more energized. Over time you may even notice that your breath may start expanding gradually. Moreover, by paying close attention to your breath you will also be immersing in the present moment which will help you notice more clearly your immediate circumstances and how you feel. This is the foundation for mindfulness.
Please let me know if you find this breathing exercise helpful. Thank you for reading and savor your breath!
Simple guided meditation with Rubén