The first time I tried yoga, I struggled. I found it uncomfortable, awkward, and frustrating. In fact, I was so frustrated that the instructor pulled me aside and suggested that I focus on breathing work instead. I had no idea what that meant – isn’t breathing an involuntary act that I did all day? But I agreed to try.
Together we breathed in and out deeply and slowly exhaled. Lo and behold, I felt this chills flow down my body. It felt so good to take a deep breath – and obviously I hadn’t. I stayed with yoga and eventually learned to absolutely love it. But in the early days of my practice, when I couldn’t do the poses or touch my toes, I could always just sit there and connect with my breath. My breath was always there for me.
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Be it an invigorating yoga flow or a gentle, low impact exercise, breath work is a wonderful way to focus and relax. By breathing deeply, we automatically turn on our parasympathetic nervous system – also known as the resting and digestive state. This helps our body to calm down and thereby lower our blood pressure. Constant inhalation and exhalation improves blood circulation and deactivates our sympathetic nervous system (or our fight or flight response).
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Breath work can also be a powerful and natural alternative or complement in dealing with post-traumatic stress, anxiety disorders and other illnesses. I think most women can relate to the occasional (and for some daily) stresses and fears that weigh on everyday life, especially the balance between motherhood, career, and personal pursuits. Breath work helps and is a tool that you always have with you – you don’t need any special equipment or apps, which means you can do it at your desk, in your car, or while cooking dinner for the kids.
A beginner’s guide to breathing work
To begin your own breath work, I recommend starting with a simple one to two ratio. That said, the goal is to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in. When you inhale to two, exhale to four. If you breathe in to four, breathe out to eight. We need to take the time to breathe. We owe it to ourselves; Our body longs for it.
Another great stress management technique that you can use to calm yourself down is box breathing. Here you breathe out until four and then keep your lungs empty for four. Then breathe in at the same pace and then hold up to four breaths in your lungs. Then start the pattern again. Try this for a minute or two and see how you feel afterwards.
Try yoga flow
Deep breathing is especially important to your yoga practice as it prevents injury, helps energize, and connects mind and body. There’s a reason you hear yoga teachers warning their class not to hold their breath – it’s surprisingly easy to forget to breathe when you’re in a difficult pose or really concentrating. Instead, keep an eye on your breath as you do the following yoga flow:
1. Sun salutation A and / or B.
2. Warrior Series
- Warrior III
- Crescent moon
- Warrior ii
- Reverse warrior
- Triangle pose
3. Balancing series
- Beginner: tree
- Intermediate: Figure 4
- Advanced: eagles
4. Forward fold / Goddess
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