Josh believes in the importance of moving yoga beyond the studio and into everyday life. His even-tempo flow based classes focus on consistency of effort, breath, and attention. Beyond yoga, Josh spends his free time biking, swimming, and listening to hip-hop.
This week’s blog post is an Excerpt from Lotus SF Founder, Jasmine Tarkeshi’s New Book: Yoga Mind and Body Handbook-Easy Poses, Guided Meditations: Perfect Peace Wherever You Are. Now available at the Lotus! Join Jasmine for a Class, reading, signing and celebration on Friday, April 14th at 5:30!
Our breath plays an integral role in the functioning of our entire body and is also a reflection of our state of mind and emotions. Better breathing patterns make us more present and grounded, ready to take on whatever comes our way. When our breathing goes awry, we may find ourselves stressed, overwhelmed, and out of balance. The same is true in reverse: when we’re happy and healthy, we tend to breathe easier. With conscious breathing, we can impact our inner world.
What Is Good Breathing?
Learning to consciously regulate our breath is one of the most powerful tools we can cultivate. It helps us control our emotions and let go. As we covered earlier in the book, yogic breathing practices are called pranayama, which means “to control or extend the breath.” Prana is our “life force” and ayama means “to extend.” With slow, regulated breathing, the quality of our lives improves dramatically.
When we are stressed, our breath becomes shallow. We breathe quickly and only fill up the top part of our lungs with oxygen. Our chest barely expands with each inhale, which triggers our flight or fight stress response.
In contrast, when we’re fully relaxed and present, our breath becomes slower and deeper. This triggers our rest–and-digest response, which lowers our heart rate. With each inhale, our entire chest and belly expand, flooding us with oxygen. With each exhale, we fully contract all of these parts of the body, releasing carbon dioxide. In this manner, each full inhale nourishes every part of our being, while each complete exhale cleanses and releases toxins from the mind and body.
Why does all of this matter? Well, the average human being takes over 20,000 breaths a day. Each breath brings us the opportunity to positively affect our state of mind and benefit our overall health. When we talk about good breathing, we’re talking about a conscious slow, even, and deep breath that satisfies our need for oxygen, and also helps us maintain a calm and present state of mind. With conscious breathing comes conscious living. This is what we strive for in yoga.
Yoga uses a variety of breathing or pranayama techniques to help facilitate different outcomes. Ujjayi breathing, which we discussed earlier , is one of the most common types of yogic breathing. Most often used during asana, it allows us to create a steady,even rhythmic, breath and link our breath to movement. In this practice, every inhale is a movement that expands the chest, such as inhaling the arms up, and every exhale promotes a contraction, such as exhaling a forward bend. The inhale accompanies a movement (such as reaching the arms up), and the exhale accompanies another movement (such asmoving into a forward bend). There are also slight pauses between breaths to help us experience stillness.
Long, deep breathing is used to calm the mind during meditation or any time you’re in a stressful situation. This breath focuses on expanding and contracting the belly to engage the diaphragm and create a slow, even breath with a slightly longer exhale. This allows for space to calm the nerves, quiet the mind, and let go.
When you’re feeling sluggish, a bellows breath can be just what you need. The exercise pumps the breath from the belly rapidly, stimulating the effects of aerobic exercise, including increased metabolism, increased heart rate, and release of serotonin to the brain.
Alternate nose breathing, where you use your thumb and pointer finger to alternately cover each nostril, is thought to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain and balance our emotional state.
All of these techniques can help you breathe better to live better.
Complete instruction on all the breathing practices available in the book!
Jasmine Tarkeshi is the Co-Founder of Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers in NYC and SF. She is a devoted student of Yoga for over 25 years and grateful teacher for 20 years. Jasmine has dedicated her life to being of service to Yoga’s transformative teachings and holy teachers through her weekly lasses at Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers SF, Teacher Trainings, International workshops, online videos and now, published book! For more details: http://sf.laughinglotus.com/jasminetarkeshi/
I’m standing on a platform thirty feet high, trying with every fiber of my being NOT to look down at the 1900 seats filled with people. It’s the climax of the second act of “Wicked” on Broadway, and I’m about to become a flying monkey over the excited audience. My face and chest are flushed hot with fear, the monkey mask hovering over my nose and mouth makes it difficult to breathe. For all I know I could be 100 feet high. What I do know is that the harness engulfing my torso pulls my shoulders to a hunch and pinches my groin, and the single wire suspended at my mid back is the only thing keeping me from plummeting down onto all those theatre goers. In a few seconds, I’ll be released forward in a surge of momentum, soaring like an acrobat over the strangers below. But I still can’t breathe, and an uncontrollable panic sets in.
Then I remember my yoga practice. Inhaling through my nose is virtually impossible, and the short breaths I’ve been gasping through my mouth are only aiding my anxiety. So I begin to constrict the back of my throat and practice deep, rhythmic Ujjayi (pronounced oo-ja-yee) breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Panic begins to subside, and my heart rate slows to an even pace. The tension in my back, shoulders and hips has released a bit, my fists have unclenched. And as I bend my knees there is a stability and readiness to my stance. Once squeezed shut, my eyes now open to receive my surroundings with clarity. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
The crew guy behind me yanks down hard on the cables and off I gooooooooo…..exhale! Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. I’m actually floating through mid air to the rhythm of my breathing! By the time I land safely back on the platform, I’m filled with exhilaration and the anxiety has completely vanished.
Prana is life force, and yama means to expand. So when we practice forms of pranayama – yogic breathing – we quite literally expand our life force, liberating ourselves from that which may bind us physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. Translated as “victorious” or “oceanic” breath, the Ujjayi pranayama creates a synchronicity between body and breath and offers tremendous benefit to the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Helpful at releasing frustration or irritability, Ujjayi encourages a free flow of prana throughout the subtle body and a sense of calm and ease.
Other benefits of Ujjayi include:
To practice, keep the mouth open and exhale on a “HAAAAH” sound, as if you were fogging up a mirror; then keeping the mouth open, inhale on an “AAAAH” sound like an elongated gasp. Do this a few times, then close the lips and see if you can maintain the same sound while gently constricting the back of the throat. The more comfortable you become with this practice, the more your breath will mimic the sounds of the ocean.
Great times to practice Ujjayi:
Fear is merely a state of mind, and we can use pranayama to shift our state. With my newfound skill to breathe deeply, steadily and be present – free from the anxiety of being up high – I actually developed an unhindered, pure joy while performing this feat. You, too, can empower yourself with this ancient yogic practice…happy breathing!
Formerly a Broadway dancer/singer/actress in NYC, Robin mixes her love of movement, chanting, energetic healing and yoga philosophy into all her teachings. She believes that human potential is infinite and that the path to joy starts with mindfulness and self-transformation. She is also a Holistic Nutritionist. www.nutritiousyogini.com
Classes: Mondays 12pm, Fridays 12pm & 5:30pm or Sundays at 10am.