Why “Come Back to Your Breath”?

Why this phrase so often in yoga class?

With our yoga practice, we try to take our immediate self, the one that’s on the mat right now, to a safer, more basic place, a fundamental place where we just “are.”  We try to turn off the higher functions of our minds, to give them a rest – the part of our brain that worries about the bills, our career, family.  To do that, we need to come back to the basics of life, and what’s more fundamental about life than breathing (eating, too, but we probably shouldn’t bring a pizza into yoga class)? Thus, we try to “breathe some life” into our yoga practice by focusing our attention on the process that gives us life, and that has the fun effect of turning off the higher, “optional” functions of our brains.

Next time you’re stuck going into or holding a pose, “come back to your breath.”  I think you’ll find something interesting happening with your body:  as you inhale, your body “rises” with the expansion of your lungs and ribcage.  Along with that, your body will tend to contract in toward your core (shoulders come toward ears, pelvis lifts).  As you exhale, your body “sinks” with the expulsion of air and contraction of your chest and abdomen, and you expand outward.  Think of a hot air balloon, how it pulls together and rises up when filled; and how it expands outward and sinks as the air is drained from it.

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Most often your yoga teacher will cue breaths thusly, with your body moving “up” and in, or rising with an inhale, and your body moving “down” and expanding or sinking with an exhale (“Inhale, raise your arms overhead; exhale as you fold forward”).

Warrior II:  Here’s one example.  Once in the pose, forget about your legs, arms, neck, and focus on your breathing.  Feel your pelvis and spine, the crown of your head lift as you inhale – it happens naturally, right?  Your shoulders may move toward your ears, your legs start to straighten a bit.  As you exhale, feel your shoulders relax and drop toward the ground, your pelvis sink, your fingertips spread toward the walls, and your knees bend deeper into the pose.

By “coming back to your breath” – the fundamental life giving process – you can find a deeper expression of many poses, and bring your mind closer to the more safe, basic place of life.

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