Yoga has introduced me to the power of breathing.

Pranayama, yogic breathing, is one of the 8 limbs of Hatha yoga. We practice pranayama as part of our Asana, the physical practice which most people associate with yoga. When practicing yoga and focussing on a deep, conscious, even breath (sama vritti) for the duration of the practice, you notice the impact breathing can make. It balances mind and body; reduces anxiety, relaxes the body and calms the mind. You find that you are creating space and quiet; so important in our modern day life, which is full of distractions.

In everyday life however we don’t usually focus on breathing, as it is regulated by the function of the autonomic nervous system. This system controls all our involuntary actions (such as heartbeat and digestion) and has two control functions; the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems; the stress (fight or flight) and relaxation (rest and digest) systems.

The wonderful thing is that it can work both ways; the system controls our breath (e.g. if we are stressed, it is shallow), but our breath can also influence which of the functions will be triggered; a short shallow rapid breath brings our stress hormones into play, while long deep slow breathing will aid in dropping the heart rate and blood pressure, initiating a state of calm. So we can influence how we feel by controlling our breath.

When we breathe deeply, inhaling all the way into the belly we will start feeling more relaxed. Try inhaling deeply placing a hand on your belly feeling it rise and then exhale out through the mouth. Do this for a few minutes and you will feel more grounded and calm.

If you feel stressed, start exhaling longer than you inhale. Keep the deep belly breathing, inhale for 2 exhale for 4, then trying to go to inhale for 3 exhale for 6. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and you should feel less stressed.

Pranayama has many different breathing exercises which can aid with focussing the mind, it can energise, relax and be grounding. Many good books on the power of breathing are out there, light on pranayama from BKS Iyengar if you want to learn more.

Besides pranayama, I’m also trying to breathe more during the day, at work, before getting stressed. Creating little triggers to remember to exhale longer than inhaling. I have been feeling calmer and things seem to be effecting me a little less than they used to….