Breath is our most intimate connection with life.
It enters us when we’re born and it leaves us when we die. It’s a constant exchange between the inner and outer spaces. It is a simple yet powerful demonstration of how deeply interdependent we are with our surroundings. Everything is interrelated, and nothing arises by itself.
The breath is very sensitive and is easily influenced by various factors:
- physical (proper or improper posture, breathing apparatus, air quality)
- mental – are we calm or rushing to get things done? What effect does it have on our breath?
- emotional factors – for example, when we’re sad, we tend to breathe shallowly, as if carrying a stone in the heart that doesn’t let us breathe.
When we pay close attention to our breath our personal story unfolds: our losses and our victories, our fears, doubts… it’s all there, in the breath. Breath is a meeting point between the body, the mind and heart and because of that special quality, we approach it attentively.
Literally – we pay attention to it. Breath is a meeting point between the body, the mind and heart and because of that special quality, we approach it attentively.
Such a practice is a lifelong commitment as we keep discovering new layers over and over again. But isn’t the breath our longest relationship in life, anyway? So best keep it fresh and interesting!
In a Dynamic Mindfulness yoga school, deep breathing is practiced in 2 ways: in motion and in stillness.
Breath in Motion
Generally, when transitioning into poses, we’re inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, in a very open way, as if you’re warming the palms of your hands when you’re cold.
When flowing slowly from pose to pose, this kind of exhalation provides a sense of release and spaciousness in the chest and throat. Remember how it feels to exhale with a feeling of release? That’s what you’re going for!
When moving, we’re connecting the breath with the movement – this seemingly simple instruction includes a complex process of finding one’s breath, becoming aware of it and then connecting it with the movement.
The breath is influenced by the rhythm of the movement AND there is a pulsation technique called Hara Breath: gently lifting the core belly in an up on the exhale (“hugging in”) and relaxing the belly on the inhale. That way we create a kind of pump for the breath to flow in and out…
BREATH PRACTICE: Hara Breath Massage
Sitting or standing, hold a fist of the right hand in your left hand and place it on the lower belly. On the exhale, pull the hands in and up and on the inhale let the belly relax and expand os the breath can flow in.
The starting point of this practice is a natural movement of the pelvis in response to the breath: as we inhale, the pelvis tilts back and the belly expands, and as we exhale the pelvis tilts forward and the belly contracts.
Depending on the pace of our movement, we can add muscular engagement – from a very gentle perineum lift (the space between the sit bones and pubic bone) in a slow flow to a very strong belly contraction on the exhale when practicing kicks and fast flows.
The final stage is to stick the tongue out on the exhale (lion breath). The deep core line of the body ends in our tongue, so it completes ‘the wave’ very nicely.
Expansion and contraction, effort and ease…
The goal of this practice is a complete merging of the movement with the breath. That has enormous positive effects on the mind, as well. The attention required to accomplish such unification occupies the entire mental space, emptying it from usual noise and excess thinking. The union of the breath and the body is a first step toward reaching samadhi or deep meditative immersion which gives us an insight into what it meant to be whole and healed.
BREATH PRACTICE: Opening the Windows
In a sitting or standing position, on the inhale open your arms to the side, with the fingers coming together as if you’re pulling an elastic string with your fingers, on the exhale push the palms forward and down, as if you want to push something away.
BREATH PRACTICE: Three Levels of Inhale:
This practice builds on the Opening the Windows exercise and focuses the attention on the three levels of the inhalation:
the bottom of the lungs, shown by the belly expanding as the diaphragm lowers
mid-lungs, heart center
upper lungs, under the clavicle
We start with the arms reaching forward and the palms facing down. Inhaling into the lower lungs (‘belly’) the hands reach upward with the fingertips connected.
On the next level of the inhale, (mid-lungs) – palms opened, moving downward.
Third level, upper lungs – palms expanding as in Opening the Windows.
All the movements are done with a little resistance, as though the hands are moving through water.
Breath in stillness
Generally, when sustaining a pose, we breathe through the nostrils, allowing the breath to flow, while still relaxing the belly fully on the inhale. We place the mind in the belly to rest.
In sitting meditation, we use the breath as a meditation method: watching the breath or counting the breath. We allow the breath to be as it is, without interfering with it in any way. Deep breathing happens on its own.
How to regain the natural deep breathing?
Many 21st century people carry around with them a chronic spasm in the belly, which permanently limits the breath to a shallow breath in the upper sections of the breathing body. When the breath is shortened and tumultuous due to un-beneficial influences on the body and mind, the breath then maintains those same un-beneficial influences that disturbed it in the first place.
Poor quality of breath causes a weakening of the physical energy. Areas which lack a good oxygen supply are the areas where the energy becomes stale and this disturbs the functioning in certain organs and bodily systems. Rapid breathing directly activates the sympathetic nervous system and causes a heightened level of tension in the body. A restless breath does not allow for the mind to settle. So, firstly a breath that is out of harmony reflects the state of the body and mind, then, in turn, this causes that very state to last longer.
How to regain the natural deep breathing? By arelaxing and spreading the breathing body (which, according to yogic subtle anatomy, is not encapsulated only in the chest, but much deeper) into the deeper layers of the abdomen.
BREATH PRACTICE: 3 levels of breathing
Lying down on the ground in Savasana.
Rest one palm beneath the belly button and feel the breath sinking and rising
Rest one palm on the heart center, with the elbow resting on the floor. Breathe naturally and feel the breath under the palm, sinking and rising in the chest.
Rest one palm higher up beneath the clavicle and watch the breath.
Now let one palm rest on the belly button and the other beneath the clavicle. The arms are relaxed. Inhaling deeply, feel the breath rising under the lower palm, on the belly, and then under the upper palm, in the clavicle area. Exhaling, feel the breath sinking in the clavicular area, and then all the way in the belly. You can imagine that the trunk is like a jar, getting filled with water, and then emptied.