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While there are literally hundreds of potentially different yoga breathing techniques, there are only three possible effects of any one particular practice.
Throughout this 12-day challenge, we will focus on balancing and relaxing practices.
We will deliberately and carefully manipulate our autonomic nervous system to either balance or relax our nerves. As the name suggests, the nervous system is usually working all on its own, automatically. Yoga Breathing allows us to do a manual override.
Designed to calm you down if you’re over-stimulated, and to boost your energy if you’re lethargic. To achieve a balancing effect, you’ll want to target four to six breaths per minute. These practices can be performed at any time of the day.
Stimulate the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) branch of your autonomic nervous system. The slow rate of 2-3 breaths per minute boosts your carbon dioxide levels, opens up your breathing passageways, slows your heart, and lowers your cortisol levels. These practices can put you to sleep so they are best practiced in the evening.
Stimulate your sympathetic (fight or flight) response and put you in a ready state for exercise, busy work, and physical activities. These practices should be used first thing in the morning or just before exercise but should be used sparingly and not before bed or you will find it difficult to sleep!
Yoga breathing tends to be a bit more accessible and practical than meditation. People either don’t begin a meditation practice because the idea of sitting still for 20 minutes with their own thoughts scares them. Or they begin but the practice falls by the wayside after a short space of time due to frustration or boredom.
Breathing is different. It’s fun and easy to practice. The counting gives you a mental focus, and the practices are short and potent. Think of yoga breathing as an active form of meditation with all the same benefits.
In traditional yoga, breathing has always been taught as a stepping-stone to meditation, and scientifically, the benefits are identical.
Just like with meditation, you relieve stress, reduce your heart and respiratory rate, lengthen your telomeres, improve sleep, lower your blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, improve digestion, and potentially extend your life!
I learned pranayama (yoga breathing) when I completed my yoga training in India back in 2012. If I’m honest I was more captivated by the physical postures than breathing but that all changed after my car accident in 2013 where I suffered multiple injuries, the most significant a traumatic brain injury and I broke C5 in my neck.
At the beginning of my recovery, movement was no longer an option as I spent 3 months in a halo brace, so meditation, mindfulness and breathing became important tools in my toolkit to cope with anxiety, PTSD and overwhelm.
I became so fascinated by breathing that I read many books on the topic, attended several workshops with Patrick McKeown (Director of the Buteyko Breathing Method clinic), and became a Yoga Alliance certified breath coach in September 2020.
I have tried and tested these techniques in various situations in my own life because as a teacher I want to be sure that the information I am giving is correct and effective. I like to learn from my own felt experiences!
I have utilised yoga breathing during simple things like hair removal and dental appointments to more stressful procedures like during my colonoscopy and IVF instead of sedation.
I once taught yoga breathing to an athlete who failed his pre-race medical due to his blood pressure being too high. We worked together for 10 minutes and brought his blood pressure down from 190 to 120 and after being reassessed, he passed his medical and was able to compete.
Altering your breathing pattern is literally the fastest way to speak to your nervous system and I can attest to the practices I teach.