Breathing Through Your Practice

by Laura Olinger 

[photo by Aubrey Renee Photography]

“You can do anything for just one more breath!” How often have we heard Sarah, or another teacher, say this in class? While it’s true that a single breath may be a short time, the ability to hold that thigh-burning Warrior II also comes from the breath itself. In his book Journey Into Power (JIP), Baron Baptiste says, “Maintaining steady, rhythmic breathing is the single most important element of yoga practice.” And if you have ever accessed that powerful breath, you have likely experienced the difference; but it still may not explain the “why”. We breathe all the time, so understanding how changing the breath in yoga can make such a big difference may not be very clear. Baron breaks it down for us in JIP. 

Why is Breath so Important?

It’s efficient- By taking deep, even breaths, you are able to continuously feed your body with the oxygen it needs to work through the practice. Ujjayi breath, the controlled, smooth and audible breath we use in yoga, is said to create respiratory efficiency. I know I have a tendency to hold my breath during abdominal exercises, which can leave me gasping for oxygen. Trust me, it’s better to keep breath flowing.

It’s your connection– Your breath is a tool to bring you into the present moment. By linking our asanas with breath, we are connecting the body and the mind. When my monkey mind starts to wander while in Half Pigeon, I remind myself that the flow is in my breath, and when I focus in on my breath, I am able to stay present.

It will take you to the edge- With discipline, we are able to use our breath as a tool to grow in the practice. We come to meet challenges with equanimity, on and off our mats. As Baron writes, “Your breath is what sustains you at your edge and allows you to move past it to new mental, emotional, and physical frontiers.”

It keeps you clearer than Claritin- With the changing seasons, it’s important to share some tips around breathing through allergies and sinus congestion. If you find yourself a bit stuffed up, our very own Rebecca Bickett suggests using essential oils. Peppermint oil in particular helps clear airways and improve respiration. Once you’re able to breathe freely, Ujjayi breath can help relieve sinus pressure.

Breath is where your practice really begins. It is what can make or break you in each pose and what can save you when you feel like giving up. We take most breaths for granted hour by hour but on our mats breath is treasured and evaluated the way it deserves. “Breath,” Amit Ray said,  “is the finest gift of nature. Be grateful for this wonderful gift.”