Calm your mind and energise your body
There are more than 300 million alveoli in your lungs – the microscopic air sacs responsible for transporting oxygen into your blood stream and on to every cell in your body – but most of us aren’t making full use of them, relying instead on shallow chest breathing to get us through the day.
When it comes to yoga (and life in general) breathing into your abdomen helps release tension, letting you sink more deeply into your body and connecting you to your own unique rhythm. This can guide you not just in your yoga practise but, by bringing you back into balance, can support many things, including developing intuition and helping you to make more appropriate decisions in your life.
Another type of yogic breathing you may have heard of is ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi means victorious, and is produced by narrowing the back of your throat as you breathe, which creates a gentle hissing sound. It’s suitable for people already comfortable with abdominal breathing.
Deep abdominal breathingBenefits: Improves oxygen flow, increases relaxation, slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure
When to use: To help develop a mindful yoga practice, or at any time during the day (sitting or standing) when you feel stressed
How to do it:1) Lie on the floor in savasana (corps pose), with your legs straight and slightly apart, and your arms by the sides of your body, palms facing upwards.
2)Take a few moments to relax into your body and feel the natural rhythm of your breath.
3) Place one hand on your lower abdomen and the other on your chest, and gradually allow your breath to deepen. You might like to close your eyes to help you focus solely on your breath.
4) Experiment with extending your breath more deeply towards your abdomen, feeling your lower hand to gently rise as you do so.
5) As you exhale, allow your body to sink further towards the floor and feel you hand gently fall again.
6) Continue for a few minutes, then slowly allow your breath to return to normal and open your eyes.
Listening to a CD of the sea can help you attune to a more rhythmic breath.
Ujjayi breathingBenefits: Soothes the nerves and tones your entire system. It also boosts endurance
When to use: You can practise ujjayi in a seated position any time of day. It’s also used in ashtanga yoga or flowing sequences such as vinyasa
How to do it:1) Sit on the floor in a comfortable crossed-leg position. If your back is rounded, it can limit the movement of your diaphragm. Try sitting on a cushion, with your hips higher than your knees, to help maintain the natural alignment of your spine.
2) At the base of your throat, just above your chest bone, is a small indent. Imagine you have a third nostril here and that you are breathing in and out through this nostril.
3) It it helps, you can visualise a thin line of light coming from the sky, entering the front of your throat and travelling to the back of your throat. Then breathe out from the back of your throat to the front, visualising the light returning to the sky.
4) Practise for no more than five minutes, noticing what you experience in your body, then gradually return to normal breathing. Rest for a few moments in savasana.
Another way to approach ujjayi breathing is by making a gentle ‘ha’ sound as you slowly exhale through an open mouth. Once you are comfortable with this technique, continue the same movements, but with your lips closed, ‘breathing’ in and out through your throat.