I’ve always embraced Yoga, but the breathing part of it (which is a huge part of it) was one of the most difficult to understand. I understand breath with movement. I try to follow along as best I could with the yoga instructors when they tell me to inhale and exhale and in my Yoga school we practiced many different techniques, like Kapalbhati, which is forcefully expelling all of your air in a rhythmic succession while seated in easy pose. I enjoyed Kapalbhati for a while, but somewhere inside of me, I wasn’t exactly fond of forcing anything in my body, especially my breath. I thought it must be important to honor your own breath, even if it was “faulty”.
I have had shallow and short breathing for as long as I remember, and have a tendency to hold my breath, especially when faced with what I view as a stressful situation. Shallow breathing can be the cause of anxiety, and it also deprives your body of rich oxygen.
I’ve heard numerous Yoga Teachers speak about how important the breath is and how pranayama is used to regulate and control the breath. And how you are supposed to breathe through your nose and not your mouth. Sometimes I just have to get the air in through my mouth when I am working hard and I just open it up and let it in. Even though I tried many breathing exercises and it did lead me to be aware of my breathing habits, I felt it never “cured” my “bad” breathing and only provided some relaxation for a short period of time and added to my confusion. Nicki Doane, the Ashtanga teacher would say, “with practice, your breath will lengthen.” (She is great and I love her Ashtanga Yoga for Beginners DVD)
Then I started to listen to and read about Leslie Kaminoff, the co-author of the famous “Yoga Anatomy” book. He stated breathing is nothing more than a shape change inside a body cavity. He said to picture a 3D sphere growing bigger and smaller and coincide the rhythm of the sphere changing shape with your breath. This worked like a charm. I felt once I visualized breathing as this circular 3-D object, I could connect to it in a logical way. I stopped thinking of breathing in a linear sense, going up and down my body, from my lungs to my belly. I can envision the process as a whole, and it is comforting to me and makes sense to me to think about it this way. I feel relieved that I finally know how to breathe and what is actually happening when I am breathing. Before this visual, I was forcing and manipulating my breath, no wonder it did not feel natural and I was way too hyper aware of my breath. I just envision the sphere and match its movements to my natural breath. Once I get use to the rhythm of the sphere and accept it, I can lengthen my inhales and exhales if I please, then go back to natural breathing and just observe. No pressure, no force, no manipulation. I like it that way. I don’t want to fight against my breath and I encourage everyone to feel acceptance of their breath as well.
Leslie also talks about pranayama as being “unobstruction” of the breath, not control or restriction of the breath. I am looking forward to study more of what Leslie Kaminoff has to teach and also will be attending one of his trainings in December in Princeton, NJ.
I love thinking holistically and viewing systems of the body as a whole, rather than dissecting and separating each part. This is what has me so excited about studying the body’s fascial network, rather than individualizing each muscle and separating it from the system. And besides, who wants to memorize every muscle in the body, not this yoga teacher!