BREATH AND MOVEMENT ARE INEXTRICABLY INTERTWINED IN OUR YOGA PRACTICE. THE QUALITY OF OUR BREATH DETERMINES THE QUALITY OF A POSE.
HELEN KRAG EXPLORES HOW TO MASTER YOGA BREATHING AS A BEGINNER.
I took up yoga in my 20s during a particularly stressful period in my life. My focus in those early years was the physical asana practise. It seems strange to acknowledge it now, but the ‘breathing aspect’ just didn’t really feature. I would, somewhat haphazardly, follow my teacher’s breath cues … and think no more of it.
It’s likely that, back then, I held a view still widely expressed today: “Why would I need to learn to breathe? I’ve been breathing my whole life!”
“[Scientists have] discovered that 90 percent of us – very likely me, you, and almost everyone you know – is breathing incorrectly and this failure is either causing or aggravating a laundry list of chronic diseases.”James Nestor, ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’
A ‘lost art’ indeed! Working consciously with the breath is fundamental in yogic traditions. Prana (translated from Sanskrit as ‘to breathe forth’) represents vital life force energy. Pranayama is a means of using the breath to extend and expand our prana. The formalised practice of Pranayama is discussed in classic yoga texts and predates postural yoga as we know it today by several centuries
“When, right from the get-go, we incorporate breath into our postural practice it becomes a habit that helps us come home to wholeness.”Lucy McCarthy
In this blog, ‘Yoga Breathing Exercises for Beginners,’ we feature both formal pranayama practices along with classes to begin to combine movement with breath work.
We will cover:
Whilst this content is ideal for yoga beginners, it can, of course, benefit us all – regardless of how long we have been practising yoga, or how many years we have been breathing!
- Our Breathing Anatomy
- Get to Know your Breath
- Courses with Yoga Breathing Exercises for Beginners
- Intro to Pranayama: Formal Yoga Breathing Exercises for Beginners
- Classes: Movement and Breath
- Further Reading
Breathing is a unique bodily process in that we do it both unconsciously (automatically) and consciously. It is helpful to understand the apparatus that supports breathing so we can visualise what happens inside when we breathe. Anatomy of Breathing with Lucy & Ben Parker explains the parts of our body that get involved in this vital process.
OUR BREATHING ANATOMY
GET TO KNOW YOUR BREATH
A good starting point is to get into the habit of noticing the breath. These five yoga breathing exercises for beginners are breath-based meditations with Nikita Akilapa. Each lasts 5-10 minutes and features different aspects of the breath.
The first practice is to use the breath as an anchor to the present moment. Practice this in Nikita’s class on ‘Watching the Breath.’ Learn how to pay close attention to your breath and how it feels in your body.
In the second part in our introduction to breath work, we notice the breath within the body. Notice the body’s involuntary response to your inhalations and exhalations.
Next, we start to count the breath. Get settled in a comfortable spot, either sitting or lying down, and begin to count your breaths backwards from 20 to 1.
You might want to use this exercise as a tool to anchor an anxious mind any time you feel overwhelmed.
In Meditation: Exploring the Breath, we learn how to practise ratio breathing as a means to change the way we feel.
This is another great technique you might want to use as a tool to ground an anxious mind.
In the final part of our yoga breathing exercises for beginners, we explore the pauses in breath – the top and bottom of the inhale/exhale
COURSES WITH YOGA BREATHING EXERCISES FOR BEGINNERS
One of the best ways to learn about and develop breath techniques is to invest regular time daily over a set number of days.
The Ten Day Breath Challenge with Dan Peppiatt is a series of lessons and activities that draws on a wide range of breath work disciplines. The preparatory exercises in the first session and the techniques for finding space in the ribcage and upper chest are particularly helpful. You will learn how to direct the breath for different situations – for example, if you want to feel energised… or calm.
INTRO TO PRANAYAMA: FORMAL YOGA BREATHING EXERCISES FOR BEGINNERS
According to Richard Rosen in his book, ‘The Yoga of Breath’, there are more than a dozen different (formal, traditional) pranayamas. As an introduction for beginners, let’s take a look at two of these.
Two Yoga Breathing Exercises for Beginners
Ujjayi is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to win’, ‘to conquer’ or ‘to be victorious’. Thus you may also hear it called Conqueror’s Breath or Victorious Breath. It is known as Ocean Breath because the sound made is reminiscent of the ocean.
Nadi is a Sanskrit word for a channel of the subtle body through which prana flows. Shodhana means cleansing or purifying. Alternative nostril breathing clears the channels both physically and energetically so that our energy can be balanced.
Yoga Breathing for Beginners: Combining Movement and Breath
Each of these classes combine yoga breathing exercises for beginners with postural movement.
These yoga breathing exercises for beginners are merely a starting point. Here are some reading suggestions if you would like to delve deeper.
Above all, when we put breathing at the heart of our yoga practice, it helps us to connect fully with the vital life force within.
Author: Helen Krag. Helen is a health and wellness enthusiast; observer of human behavioural change; yoga teacher trainee; passionate traveller; and lover of the outdoors.