Yoga is just as much a practice involving breath as it is a practice involving posture. Even if you are lying still on your mat, as long as you are breathing, you are doing yoga. The significance of breath in yoga is heightened when it is consciously linked with posture. In simplistic terms, upward movements are done while inhaling, and downward movements are done while exhaling. Take, for example, triangle pose, which we examined in the last post. When performing this pose, you would exhale while bringing your hand down to your foot and inhale while reaching your opposite hand up to the ceiling.
Bringing body and breath together is the very first step of any yoga practice. It is important to understand and establish that the breath always leads the body; it is not the other way around. This means that if the breath is not there, the body cannot continue into the posture. The simple motion of lifting the arms on an inhale and lowering them on an exhale may help you to learn the rhythm of combined breath and movement. If at any point during your yoga practice, you notice your breath becoming short and/or shallow, you should try a more basic posture or make a variation to your current pose. For example, if your breath becomes strained in triangle, you could try bringing your bottom hand from your foot to your shin. When you are aware of your breath in this way, you are better able to experience a holistic, more fulfilling yoga practice because this awareness highlights feeling the postures, rather than obsessing over the outer manifestation of a posture, or in other words, how “good” a pose looks.
Breathing in yoga, however, is different than the way in which you breath during your daily life. While practicing yoga, both the inhalations and exhalations are fuller and deeper than they are normally. The technique of deepening the breath involves consciously expanding the chest and abdomen while inhaling and consciously contracting the chest and abdomen while exhaling. During a deep inhale, the diaphragm moves downward, the ribs expand and rise, and the spine straightens in this region. During a deep exhale, the opposite occurs. The front of the belly contracts back to the spine, the diaphragm rises, and the spine returns to its normal position.
It is only by bringing body, breath, and mind into unison that you may realize the true potential of an asana, or posture. No matter how beautifully you come into a pose, no matter your particular level of flexibility, or even your level of mental relaxation, if you are not aware of the integration of your own body and breath, you cannot confidently call what you are doing yoga. Yoga is an internal experience, understood only through personal, mindful awareness. Yoga is unlike theater or dance. It is not a performance. You are both observer and what is being observed. It is only through breath that you are able to truly tune into yourself, to feel and release tension, and ultimately, to let go.
Maddy | Yogi Confessor