Most of us go about our day never taking the time to check in with ourselves mentally or physically. Many of us are holding onto tension and stress that we don’t even know we’re carrying. Those achy shoulders and hips are trying to tell us something if we’re only willing to listen. My job as a yoga teacher is to guide students in how to do just that!
When we make the time to recognize our natural breathing patterns, we can better understand what’s going on in our bodies.
So how do you connect to your body and slow down enough to hear what it has to say? It all starts with breath. We all know how to breathe. We’ve been doing it constantly, every day of our lives from the moment we were born. In fact, we do it so much that most of us don’t even think about it. We simply allow our nervous system to make it happen. When we make the time to recognize our natural breathing patterns, we can better understand what’s going on in our bodies. We then have a foundation to build on in order to breath in a more beneficial manner.
Studies suggest that slowing down the rhythm of breath to about six breaths per minute can have a number of amazing health benefits, including lower blood pressure in response to stress and more positive mood. This long, slow rhythm of breathing is known as Resonance Frequency (RF), and the significant effects of RF can be seen in as little as 15 minutes. Additionally, by taking a few short moments to check in with your breath, you can feel a sense of peace almost instantly.
Wherever you are while reading this, I invite you to sit up straight and tall. Allow your shoulders to relax. Unclench your jaw. Next, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Now, notice where in your body you feel your breath. You may feel your chest rise and fall or you may feel your belly expand and contract. You might even notice your back and shoulders lifting and lowering.
Once you’ve taken the time to recognize your quality of breath as it naturally exists in this moment, begin breathing in and out through the nose. As you inhale gently allow your breath to travel all the way into the bottom of your lungs, feeling your belly expand with each breath in. On each exhale, press your belly button to your spine, letting go of all of the breath in your body. Gently close your eyes and take six deep breaths in this rhythm. Then take a moment to notice how you feel.
Hopefully you feel a little bit calmer. Or perhaps you simply notice stillness. If you had a difficult time making it to six breaths. That’s okay! Recognize that breath work, like anything else, takes practice. Breath work can be practiced daily, and over time you’ll notice it becomes easier and easier to simply slip into this long, deep breath. I’ve often spoken to students who report going about their day as normal, and upon coming to a task or challenge that would usually cause stress or anxiety, they find themselves calm. Without even thinking about it, their breath has slowed.
In yoga classes, you’ll notice teachers often begin a class by instructing students to take a moment to turn their focus inward and slow down their breath. We begin this way because once we’ve established this rhythm of breath, we can begin to move the body in and out of challenging poses while allowing the breath to keep us grounded. In this way, even when we’re aware that we’re struggling with a sequence of movement, we remain relatively calm and unaffected. And should you lose your breath or recognize that once again your breath has become shallow, quickened, or labored, we can simply take a step back, reconnect to a deeper breath, and take the next step forward from a place of calm.
Now imagine taking this same concept off of your yoga mat and into your everyday life; connecting with your breath every day to establish an initial peace of mind, and checking in with yourself throughout the day. When chaos arises, what would happen if you simply took a step back and proceeded forward only once you had given yourself the opportunity to regain your sense of peace?
It creates a much calmer way to live both for yourself and those around you! Your entire community benefits from your personal connection to self and it all starts with breath.