If you can breathe, you can do yoga.
Yoga isn’t about flexibility or holding weird-looking arm balances – though you can work on both if you want. (We’ll touch on that in future pieces.)
Yoga is about using innate tools to stamp out your own suffering. Sounds kind of grim, but we all suffer, so to speak, more often than we realize.
There are lots of triggers: negative thoughts, being bored, feeling frustrated. It happens when we dwell on whatever is bugging us. In other words, we aren’t present. That’s where baseline yoga comes in. It starts with the breath.
When we breathe with attention, we enter the present moment.
This is the first in a series of three articles that explain the benefits of yoga and how to tap into the ancient practice at work, anytime – whether you’re in a suit, scrubs or construction boots.
Part 1: The Breath / If you can breathe, you can do yoga
Part 2: Movement/ No mat needed, yoga at your desk
Part 3: Balance / How yoga can help you have better balance – literally
Try this: Inhale and notice what happens in your torso. Exhale and do that same. Now, inhale and expand your torso from the bottom to the top. Exhale and feel your torso deflate. Do this 10 more times, counting to three on each inhale and exhale.
If you paid attention to those breaths, it was probably difficult to focus on anything else – putting a halt to suffering. You also calmed your nervous system, a wonderful benefit to slow breathing, which means you’re probably feeling better – again a blow to suffering. There’s a reason why when someone is in a rage or panicked, folks advise them to “breathe, just breathe.” Many studies show that yoga reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. It also helps with depression, among other conditions. Yogic breathing is a big reason for both.
There are many different kinds of breath-work, and we hit on a few a while back.
Here are two more, along with their benefits – beyond calming your nervous system, of course. Keep in mind that nearly all yogic breathing is through the nose. This cleans, warms and humidifies air on inhales and keeps the throat from drying out on exhales. Also, you breathe more slowly through the nose than the mouth because nasal passages are narrower there. All your inhales should be expansive, and your exhales should deflate your torso, same as the “try this” exercise above. Never force your breath though.
Deep “Ujjayi” breathing
Benefit: Create internal heat and mental alertness
This type of deep breathing creates a hypnotic sound much like that when you fog up glass. It requires similar engagement – constricting the back of the throat – but happens with your mouth closed. First try to create the engagement with your mouth open. Then try to create the same action with your mouth closed. (You won’t feel a rush of air along the nostrils, like you do with typical nose breathing.)
Rhythmic intentional breathing
Benefit: Feel more carefree while being grounded
Buoyancy and grounding might seem incompatible, but they aren’t. Consider all parts of your body touching a surface below as grounding points. This includes your hands if they are resting on your thighs. Consider everything else as buoyant. Inhale and allow the buoyant areas to feel lighter, exhale and become more aware of your grounding points.
There is no required number of rounds for breath-work, but the longer you can do each, the more you’ll feel the effects. Believe it or not, you are practicing yoga.
Journalist Mitra Malek has taught yoga regularly since 2006. She was a senior editor for Yoga Journal and still does research for the magazine on wellness, fitness and nutrition. Learn more at www.mitramalek.com.