As you sit at your computer reading this article, I want you to be conscious of your breathing. Consciously exhale long and easy through your nose, do not force the breath, just let it escape through your nostrils. Feel it leave your body. Then, begin to inhale. Bring the air in through your nose at the same pace of your exhale, slow and deliberate but not forced. Now pause for a moment. Try it again. Try counting this time as you slowly exhale, try to count slowly to at least 5 or 6. Then inhale again, use the same count as you did for your exhale. Repeat this process, and with each breath be mindful and conscious of your breathing.
Why is the way we breathe important? Why do we breathe like this? Practicing breathing in this way demands our focused attention, keeping our minds engaged in the moment. Mindful, conscious breathing increases physiological awareness. Focused, mindful breathing also reduces stress, strengthens the respiratory system, energizes your mind and body and focuses the brain on the now. Breathing is an integral part of Yoga Practice and these breathing techniques, when used properly, can also help us on the trail when fighting fatigue, stress or altitude.
Posture is also important as we practice breathing. Make sure you are comfortably seated with your spine straight and your arms and shoulders relaxed. Your head should be balanced and in line with your spine. Make sure your pelvis is tilted in line with your spine and your weight is evenly distributed and balanced. Chest out and strong, shoulders relaxed and core solid. Keeping this posture, continue your breathing practice from above. Out through the nose (count if you need to), pause, then in through the nose (counting again) and pause. Repeat. You should be able to feel your muscles relax with each exhale and energize with each inhale.
Your mind should be on your breathing, noticing the subtle movements in your body as you practice. If your mind wanders (which it will at first), don’t get frustrated. Simply refocus, gently, bringing your mind back to the task at hand. Try this exercise from YogaEverywhere.com:
The Three Breath Practice: By Jillian Pransky
You can practice Three Deep Conscious Breaths anywhere, anytime and as often as you wish. However, when you are just starting out, it can be helpful to follow these few simple steps to enhance the effectiveness of your practice. For more seasoned yoga practitioners, please skip down and begin at #4:
- Please stop whatever activity you are involved in so you can give your full attention to the breath. Over time you will be able to consciously breathe in any moment – while you are walking, talking, listening, working, waiting, or even eating, however, in the beginning, it’s good to stop what you’re doing so you can concentrate more easily.
- You can sit in a chair or on the ground with your back relaxed, but straight or stand with your weight distributed evenly on each foot.
- When you are new to the practice, and if you are in a safe environment, you may close your eyes so your attention is on the breath and not on outside activities and scenery. However, eventually, you actually want to do this practice with your eyes open, aware of your environment. This way, you learn to connect to your breath as you are moving regularly from moment to moment, engaged in the world around you.
- Relax and take a deep breath, slowly breathing through your nose, then breathe out again through your nose. Allow your mind to follow your breath in and back out of your body. You can focus on the tip of the nose where the breath enters and leaves or you can mentally follow the breath on its complete path in to and back out of the body.
- After you have completely exhaled, allow another natural breath to flow in. Don’t pull or suck the breath in, it will come to you naturally. Once you have a full breath in, exhale again without forcing or pushing the breath out. Allow all of the breath to empty from your lungs without jumping ahead to the next inhale. Simply rest your mind on the breath and feel its effects; observing and sensing. Stay relaxed and allow your awareness of the breath to be soft, not heavy with concentration.
- Each inhalation and exhalation is one cycle. Do three cycles and allow your mind to rest fully on the breath. You may notice that your mind wanders even after the first breath. When you notice that the mind has tripped out to your to-do-list, dissecting a past conversation, or balancing your check book, just acknowledge that you’ve been distracted and gently guide your mind back to your breath. The attitude in which you guide yourself back to the breath is KEY. So when you find yourself tripping out, just be humored, and with the warmth you’d offer your best friend, guide your mind back to the flow of your next breath. (We tend to go where we feel welcomed, to relax and expand more when we are not bullied.)
- After getting the hang of paying attention to Three Conscious Breaths bring the practice into your every day life as often as you can. You skip parts 1-3 and jump right to 4-6. Use this Three Breath Pause through out your day in any moment, when you are walking to your office, eating lunch, in a conversation with a friend, working on your computer, waiting on a line, stuck in traffic, when ever. You will find this practice transforming your day. And, eventually, you will find the “Pause” more accessible to you in those harder moments, like when you’ve just been insulted, or your child or parent is pushing your buttons, or anytime you feel your anger or irritation building.
Proper Breathing is not only an important part of your Yoga Practice, it’s a great way to reduce stress, quiet the mind and control the body. It brings you fully into the moment, allowing you to completely connect with the present. Whether it’s Yoga Practice, a short hike, a quiet moment outside or an afternoon at a breathtaking vista…mindful, conscious breathing can put you in the right mindset for a deeper, more meaningful experience.