That Isn’t Yoga. This Is.
What is yoga?
One definition from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary states, “a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being.”
Another popular definition is yoga means to “yoke” or unite the body and mind.
Both are valid responses. But let’s get a little more specific.
Is yoga the postures?
According to fitness expert, Steve Maxwell, “Yoga is not the stretching. That’s not yoga. Yoga is the pranayama [breathing].”
And Steve goes on to say, “If you’re not concentrating on the breath, you’re not doing yoga. You’re doing some form of stretching calisthenics.”
It’s tough enough remembering where this foot goes and where to put that hand let alone wondering if you’re breathing correctly.
Every yogi faces this challenge each time they get on the mat.
That’s why I’m going to share a step-by-step method to help you access your breathing. It will boost your yoga game to a whole new level.
If you’re intrigued, keep reading…
Step One – Where Do You Breathe?
I know it sounds like a silly question. But humor me for a moment.
Take a deep breath in.
Did you draw the air through your mouth or through your nose?
Did your shoulders go up or did your belly inflate?
Let’s try again and this time bring some awareness to your process.
This will help, place your left hand on your heart and place your right hand on your belly button.
Now, take another deep breath in.
Did it come from your nose? Did your belly move or was it your shoulders?
The goal is to have your breath flow in and out through your nostrils while your belly goes up and down (not your shoulders).
Congratulations if you got it right, but don’t feel bad if you need a little work. At least now you know where to breathe.
Step Two – Clear The Way
Breathing is way easier if you don’t have any obstructions.
One way to clear the way is by using a neti pot. It’s a method of nasal irrigation that’s been around for centuries. Some of the known benefits of nasal irrigation are removing allergens and other pollutants.
Another way to help to make your breathing easier is to use a nose hair trimmer. Sexy, right?
But if you’ve got a lot of hair clogging your oxygen intake, you may want to consider getting that stuff out of the way so you can breathe better.
Personally, I use both methods and they work great for me. Get with your doctor so they can help you make the best decision for what’s best for you.
Step Three – Breathe
Place your left hand on your heart and place your right hand on your belly button.
Take a deep breath.
Do your best to keep your chest still. Your left hand will tell you if you’re breathing in your ribs or not.
Take another deep breath.
Did you feel your belly expand? Your right hand will tell you if you’re using your belly to breathe.
You should feel your belly expand when you inhale and you should feel your belly collapse when you exhale.
Give yourself time to practice because this is a skill everyone loses right around the age of five.
If you watch a newborn baby breathe, their tummy will rise with the inhale and their tummy will fall with the exhale.
But once we begin sitting in chairs (usually around the time we attend kindergarten) our breathing changes. We begin to breathe in our chests and upper structures of the shoulders. That’s because slouching in a chair shuts down diaphragmatic breathing and forces clavicular and intercostal breathing.
Step Four – Coordinate
Once you understand how to belly breathe, it’s time to integrate it into your yoga practice.
Begin with simple things first.
- Stand in Mountain Pose.
- Keep your hands by your sides.
- Inhale, and as your lungs fill with air, bring your hands overhead.
- When your lungs are full, your hands should be as high as they can go.
- Now, exhale, and as your lungs empty, bring your hands back to your side.
- When your lunges are empty your hands should be back in the starting position.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Do your best to coordinate your movement with your breath. Don’t speed up or slow down. Make each movement fluid and smooth. Practice for five full breaths.
If that’s too easy, give Warrior 2 a shot:
- Stand with your legs wider than shoulder width, both feet parallel and pointing in the same direction, and your hands by your side.
- Turn your left foot to the left and leave your right foot the way it is.
- Inhale and bring your hands to a “T”.
- Exhale and bend your front knee to a 90 degree angle.
- You should be in a yoga pose called Warrior 2.
- Hold here for five full breaths.
- On your next inhale, straighten your front leg. Exhale and drop your arms to your side.
- Repeat on your other side.
Matching your breath and your movement in yoga it’s called vinyasa. And it’s a very powerful tool that not only deepens your awareness during practice, it also helps keep you energized.
Try adding vinyasa to all of your poses. A good rule of thumb to follow is, inhale when your body expands, and exhale when your body contracts.
Now You’re Doing Yoga
I remember hearing David Swenson speak at a workshop. I’m going to paraphrase, but I think you’ll get the idea.
He asked the group, “Who is the person doing yoga?”
And he demonstrated a deep-stretchy-yoga pose but you could see that he was picking lint off his mat, scratching his head, and just generally looking distracted.
Then he demonstrated a not so deep-stretchy-yoga pose but you could hear his breathing and see his deep concentration while he held the pose for five deep breaths.
After showing us the two options he said the first person was stretching and the second person was doing yoga.
Now it’s your turn.
Make a commitment to focus on your breathing.
Then add the correct breathing technique to one yoga pose. Then another. Then another.
Take your time. Before you know it, your practice will be at a whole new level.
You’ve got this!
PS – we’ve got great video downloads waiting for you to practice with.