I talked about the single most important element of a successful home yoga practice in part one of this series. Now onto the next step: breathing.
There is no yoga, or life for that matter, without it.
Breath is the link between the body and the mind. It is what brings the whole exercise into union, or yoga. Without mindful breathing, the asana practice is simply a series of physical movements. Not bad in itself, but light years away from the magic of yoga.
By focusing your mind on the breath, you help to calm the central nervous system, to lower blood pressure and heart rate and, as a result, to melt stress and tension away.
Breathing, or pranayama, is one of the eight limbs of yoga as set out in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. (Sutras II.29 and II.49 - II.53)
It is not a good idea to start a home practice if you are a complete beginner. Please find a good teacher to learn the basics and how to practice safely. Join a beginners class or book a private session.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
There are many breathing exercises available to practice. But to begin with, I suggest simply focusing your mind on the breath and synchronising it with your movement. This alone will make all the difference to your practice.
♥ Start in a comfortable seated position with your spine straight. If sitting cross legged on the floor, it is a good idea to sit up on a block or a cushion to lift your pelvis up a little. The idea is for the knees to be on the same level or lower than the hips. You could also sit on a chair or lie down on your back with knees bent, feet as wide as your mat and knees touching. Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
♥ Place both hands on your belly. With each inhalation, feel your belly rise. With each exhalation, feel your belly fall.
♥ Observe your inhale and your exhale. Notice the space between: at the top of your inhalation, and at the bottom of your exhalation.
♥ Once you have established a good slow and steady breathing rhythm, try extending your exhalation until it is twice as long as your inhalation. Counting helps. For example, you could start inhaling to the count of 3 and exhaling to the count of 3. Then move to inhaling to the count of 3 and exhaling to the count of 4 for a few breaths. Gradually work your way up to inhaling to 3 and exhaling to 6.
Do this for a few minutes at the beginning of your practice or just on its own. See how it feels to breathe into your belly, expanding your diaphragm. It's interesting to see how many people have never used that muscle, and probably don't even know where it is and what it looks like. (More on that in another post, stay tuned!)