Breathing is supposed to be the integrated principle of yoga. It is one of the fundamental differences compared to other forms of physical activity. Maybe you already know this but when you go to class you just don’t really understand how you should take breaths while doing your asanas (postures) and going through the sequences.
Article by Lena Kalchenko
There are many types of breathing techniques in yoga: Ocean Breath, Nostril Breath, Balanced Breath – to mention just a few. You might have heard of all these during classes and you had no clue what the instructor was talking about or if they explained, you just didn’t get it. I had the same feeling with the three-part full Yogic Breath.
Have you ever been in a class where they told you that Yogic Breath is the “correct way to breathe”? Has it ever made you feel like you are not doing it correctly or has it ever made you feel uncomfortable? Something that just did not feel quite right? Yet apparently that’s THE correct way to breathe…
I had that statement etched into my brain during my first yoga session and after becoming a teacher carried on teaching the very same thing. But it just didn’t sit right with me and I simply did not feel comfortable keeping that pattern of breathing and teaching it without feeling it.
If you google Yogic Breath one of the first links that comes up explains “Breathe into the belly, feeling it grow. Keep inhaling as the breath expands to the ribs, and then the chest. Pause for a moment, completely filled with air. Exhale from the chest, then the ribs, and then the belly… Exhale shoulder blades, back of ribs, then kidneys”.
The very first issue I have with this is that air does not “fill you” completely. It never goes past your lungs! Other things about this method started to irk and confuse me and I realized I was not alone in my discomfort. I was stuck in a particular pattern of breathing. I am sure that we can all agree being stuck is never good. Being able to breathe in more than one way is an amazing thing. Unlearning the old ways of breathing is even more amazing.
So I keep reminding myself every time I practice yoga I don’t just want to be stuck in one way of breathing. We want our systems to be flexible enough to adapt to many different types of pranayama (Sanskrit word for the practice of specific breathing techniques that comes from Prana, life-energy, and Ayama, to extend, draw out). Recently I’ve been introducing the reverse method to 3 part breathing. So I start exhaling from top to bottom. It may sound crazy for someone who’s been used to starting from the belly upwards and it sounded crazy to me to begin with, but it had incredible effects on my body.
I encourage you to do the same. Try as many breathing techniques as you can and find the one or ones that work for you. You should never feel stuck in your methods. It’s okay to explore, doubt and trust. If something doesn’t feel right for your body, just don’t do it. Do not take any instruction as a universal truth. What works for one person does not have to work for anther. The way to breathe is no exception.