I was at the doctor’s a little while ago, and we had a conversation that I will never forget. Fortunately, this conversation had nothing to do with my overall health– I turned out to be fine. But as she had me take deep inhales and exhales and listened to my lungs with her stethoscope, we started talking about how people breathe. And she told me that when she asks people to breathe, they often do not know how–taking shallow sips of air in through their mouth, never actually breathing deeply.
I know that feeling. The feeling of panic when someone asks you to breathe deeply. As a child I had asthma, and not only were my inhalers embarrassing to keep in my gym locker, but the idea that my lungs might somehow stop being able to take air in made participating in sports an unwelcome idea.
Yoga taught me to breathe. In a sweaty Vinyasa class you have to figure out how to get oxygen into your body. The fact that I wasn’t being pushed to fight past my breath made this kind of physical activity accessible and made learning to breathe possible.
Staying in tune with your breath is one of the most, if not the most important part of the Asana practice. Having the patience with your body to allow yourself to sit back into Child’s Pose and find your breath during an intense Vinyasa practice is incredibly important. This ability to sit back and watch your breath is a powerful tool that yoga teaches us, and that we can carry to all parts of our lives.
So take a moment. Find a comfortable seat or lie down on your back. Close your eyes. Exhale all the air out of your lungs through your mouth. And then push that tiny bit of remaining air out. Now, begin your inhale at the bottom of your belly, breathing through your nose. As your slowly breathe in, visualize your breath filling every part of you, from the base of your spine, rising slowly up and filling all the space in your lungs, in your chest, in your throat. When you think you have inhaled as much as you can, take one more tiny sip in of air. Open your mouth just slightly, and slowly, visualize the air leaving your body the same way that it went in–let your chest deflate, let your belly deflate. As you let your breath return to normal, try to keep filling the space that you found during the deep breathing exercise.
Eventually, with practice and with patience, without thinking your breath will become deeper and you will become stronger.