How Do You Breathe in Yoga?

09. August 2018

When we first start a yoga practice the big lesson is to breathe through the nose, in and out. This is quite contrary to breathing we do if we are at a health club, (in through the nose, out through the mouth), or doing most other physical training. And then we learn Ujjayi, the victorious breath, that requires us to not only breathe in and out through the nose, but to also adjust the breath so that it’s like a whisper on the way in and out. One could say you sound like Darth Vader, or the gentle waves of the ocean, feeling a slight constriction in the back of the throat so that the breath is more contained, controlled and effective.

Once the Ujjayi is introduced, the challenge is to maintain it, on inhale as well as exhale; and throughout the duration of the class. This means to maintain the calm, controlled, even breath while you are doing something crazy with your body or simply sitting in a cross-legged seated position afterwards. Yet most of us are focusing on the more obvious challenge of simply keeping up with a class through the poses and which body part goes where. And if we attend classes that play music, sometimes loudly, the awareness of the breath has often faded behind the booming of the stereo’s rhythm. The ability to hear or even feel one’s breath is no longer part of the practice; even the ability to hear one’s thoughts are lost. Instead we leave a class drenched with sweat and totally wiped from the experience because we survived beyond our former limits. And yet it feels so good! So we go back for more.

There is a problem, though. If yoga means union, (and it does), and if the practice of yoga was initially developed to help us become more in harmony with ourselves through mind, body and breath, (and it was), and we are leaving a class absolutely wiped out, then we are not in harmony. We could be more fragmented than when we came in, but we just feel better because of the raised endorphins and that we are sweaty. Our mind may have been beaten to a pulp in the process, so it’s impossible to tune in to a serene inner state that actually exists within each of us. When our energy is drained after a strong class, we’ve wiped out all the Prana, the Life Force that might’ve been kindling within. Now the body is exhausted and we need to sit on the couch to recuperate.

So in irony, by practicing yoga, we sometimes create the opposite effect than what is intended. Yoga should be giving us life, not taking it away.

Life Force is translated as Prana in yoga. Not all breathing is Prana, or Life Force. Think about it, when you sit in your car to drive across town, you are breathing, but are you full of life? When you’ve worked behind a desk, inside an office, for an 8-hour day, are you full of life? You have been breathing, otherwise you’d be dead. But most of us are fatigued after a day of work because we haven’t noticed our own breathing, nor put attention to the quality of the breath.

What we do with our breath determines whether our breath is just breath or if it becomes Prana. But there’s more: Where is your breath going? Did you know that how you breathe can not only help you properly move into a posture but also guide the unfolding of Prana and the release of our greatest potential? It may sound corny but it’s true; we all have amazing potential that for most of us, lies dormant throughout our lives.

By Jeanne Heileman, Tantra Flow Yoga™