Practising yoga connects us to the breath. It also brings our attention to the parts of the body that allow us to exhale and inhale fully. As you tune in to your body more and more, you may start to notice all the ways your breath can vary. It can be quiet or noisy, heavy or soft. It can be relaxing or energising, and it can even make you feel tense.
Yoga can help improve breathing patterns and good breathing patterns can improve the quality of your yoga practice, but there are numerous wellbeing benefits beyond this too. Since breathing happens automatically, it’s easy to forget it’s a valuable tool you can use to manage stress and improve your mood. When you feel hemmed in, closed off or overwhelmed, your breath is one of the most profound ways to reclaim a feeling of spaciousness.
The Wellbeing Benefits of Breathing Deeply
‘It is estimated that we participate in seventeen to twenty thousand breaths per day, between 8-20 breaths per minute. The lungs have a capacity of about 6 litres, of which only a very small amount is actually used, maybe 1/2 a litre. We tend to concentrate breathing in the upper part of the lungs, yet the largest number of air sacs is in the lower part. By learning to breathe more efficiently, we revitalise our bodies, making better use of incoming oxygen and expelling carbon monoxide more effectively.’ – Notes on Yoga by Diane Long and Sophie Hoare
There’s a principle in Eastern medicine: ‘the mind follows the breath’. When your breathing is shallow and rapid, your mind will race and go over the same thoughts. When your breathing is slow and deep, your mind becomes still, and your thoughts slow down.
Deepening your breathing opens your body and creates space. It alleviates pain, relaxes you, promotes circulation and slows down a stressed mind. Rapid, shallow breathing does the opposite. By allowing you to pause momentarily, even a single deep breath can dramatically transform the way you feel.
How to Start Noticing Your Breath
Paying attention to your breath doesn’t have to be reserved for yoga. The next time you feel stressed, inhale slowly and deeply before lengthening your outward breath. As you exhale, notice how quickly your mind calms itself and enjoy the feeling of spaciousness this creates.
Becoming more aware of your breath on a daily basis will make it easier for you to tune in to your body and breathe deeply when you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious and tired. Start your morning with a few minutes of deep breathing, either snuggled up in bed or outside, wrapped in a blanket with your morning cup of tea. It’s not easy at this time of year when it’s cold and dark, but inhaling deep breaths of fresh air is definitely worth it.
Try ending the day in same way, with a few minutes of deep breathing just before you turn off the light. As well as calming your mind ready for a restful night’s sleep, it will help you let go of stresses and worries.
If you sit at a desk or computer to work, pay attention to your posture and how it affects your breathing. If you’re hunching over, your abdomen compresses, your shoulders round and your chest caves in, hindering your breath. Try improving your posture and taking a few deep breaths. Does this help you work more calmly and productively throughout the day?
Before launching into a conversation, especially if you think it’s going to be tricky or confrontational, breathing deeply will help you think more clearly. It will also encourage you to be open to what the other person has to say, helping the conversation flow rather than feel like a struggle.
Love Lizzie and the SOL team xx