The foundation of yoga is the breath. It is pure, simple and true.
When we sit on a cushion or chair and merely notice our inhalation and exhalation, we are doing yoga. We are uniting with our breath while in a seated posture.
During a hatha class I took with Mark Devenpeck (owner of Triad Yoga and Pilates), I remember him saying, “If you are forgetting to breathe, you are doing something, but it is not yoga.”
When we breathe life into the yoga postures, we are now doing yoga. We are forming an energetic connection with the movement.
We often inhale on the extension, in order to lengthen the movement. In contrast, we tend to exhale on the contraction, making ourselves more compact and harnessing the strength of the breath.
We can also imagine the breath rolling in and out of the body, like the waves on a friendly shore; both giving and taking away.
We can visualize inhaling into any part of the body that needs a little love, similar to air filling a red balloon. When we are ready to exhale, we can practice letting go of any unwanted tension. This is an opportunity to unwind or literally un- “wind” with the breath.
Some spaces that can carry tension are the shoulders, back, hands and abdomen. Our bodies tend to symbolically carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and backs. We also tend to grip our hands or clench our bellies while under pressure.
Yoga can help reclaim the peace and calm in our bodies through targeted breathing.
One of my favorite breathing exercises is to breathe through each of the energy centers of the body. It can be done in savasana (final resting pose) or at any time.
Starting at the top:
- Breathing into the top of the head, then exhaling and relaxing the muscles in the eye sockets or around the eyes
- Breathing into the area between the eyebrows, then exhaling and releasing the muscles through to the back of the head
- Breathing into the sinuses and cheekbones, then exhaling and relaxing the muscles inside the ears
- Breathing into the tissue around your mouth and lips, then exhaling and releasing the tongue from the roof of the mouth and softening the jaw bone
- Breathing into the front of the throat, then releasing the muscles on the back of the neck, tops of the shoulders and all the way down to the hands
- Inhaling into the tops of the hands, then exhaling and releasing through the palms
- Breathing into the heart center, then exhaling and releasing the muscles between the shoulder blades
- Breathing into the area above the belly button, then exhaling and releasing all the way through to the mid back
- Breathing into the area below the belly button, then releasing and relaxing all the way through to the low back and muscles around the tail bone
- Breathing into the hip sockets, then exhaling and relaxing the seat muscles
- Breathing into the tops of the legs, then exhaling and letting the back of the legs melt into the earth
- Breathing into the tops of the feet, then releasing and relaxing the arches of the feet
- Breathing into the spaces between the toes, then exhaling and relaxing all the way through to the tips of the toes
I invite my students to enjoy this relaxation from head to toe, giving them some space and time, free from any cues.
Our parents rejoiced in the first breath we took when we were born. Coming back to the breath is an opportunity for renewal and a reminder of our most innocent beginnings.
Peace and Yoga,