Updated: Oct 2
Breathe. It's a simple yet profound act that we perform roughly 25,000 times a day, and yet many of your students take it for granted. In recent times, however, the importance of conscious breathing has gained well-deserved attention. James Nestor, the author of "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art," has highlighted how our breathing habits have changed and how mastering the art of proper breathing can positively impact our overall health. As yoga teachers, understanding the science and art of breathing is pivotal to our teaching. In this blog post, we will explore how mindful breathing can elevate not only our yoga practice but also the lives of our students.
1. The Breath-Mind Connection
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are recognizing the significance of their breath. The way we breathe affects us at a cellular level, influencing various aspects of our health, including weight, athletic performance, allergies, mood, and stress levels. As yoga teachers, it is our responsibility to help our students understand the profound connection between breath and well-being.
Teach your students to breathe through their noses, as nasal breathing filters, heats, and treats the air. It also increases oxygen intake and raises nitric oxide levels, which enhances circulation and influences immune function, weight, and mood. Breathing through the mouth has uses and benefits too - think about releasing an exhale through pursed lips and the relaxing effect that has.
Yoga offers help for congestion in the form of neti pots, or even the inhalation of essential oils like eucalyptus or peppermint.
2. Deepen the Breath
In our daily lives, we often engage only a fraction of our diaphragm, leading to shallow chest breathing. This shallow breathing can strain muscles, burden the heart, and keep us in a state of constant stress. Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes referred to as belly breathing, can retrain students to breathe deeply, allowing their bodies to absorb more oxygen and nudge their nervous systems towards a more restful state.
Teach your students belly breathing techniques. Have them lie flat on their backs with one hand on their chest and the other on their belly, focusing on expanding the abdomen while inhaling through the nose. This technique not only promotes deep breathing but also helps in reducing stress.
Encourage your students to incorporate mindful belly breathing into their daily routines, whether they are lying down, sitting, or standing.
3. Release Upper Body Tension
Many of our students unknowingly hold tension in their upper bodies, which can restrict their ability to breathe deeply and comfortably. As yoga teachers, we can guide them in relieving this tension through simple exercises.
Suggest using tennis or massage balls to massage the upper body. These exercises can help loosen, lengthen, and relax the muscles of the neck, shoulders, upper chest, and back.
Recommend specific ball-rolling exercises, such as pectoral rolls, intercostal rolls, upper back rolls, and neck releases, to target areas of tension and improve breath capacity.
4. Improve Posture
Poor posture can restrict the diaphragm and impede proper breathing. Yoga offers excellent solutions to correct posture and enhance breath control.
Teach your students postural exercises like the cat/cow pose, wide-legged forward fold, and supine spinal twist. These poses can stretch the legs, lengthen the back, open the shoulders, and improve posture, ultimately aiding in better breath control.
Emphasize the importance of maintaining good posture throughout their daily lives, as this habit will have a lasting impact on their breathing patterns.
5. Control the Nervous System
As yoga teachers, we understand the intricate connection between breath and the nervous system. Breathing consciously and focusing on the exhale can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and overall well-being.
Educate your students on how the breath directly affects the nervous system. Explain the "fight-or-flight" and "rest-and-digest" responses and how conscious breathing can switch between them.
Guide your students through breath control techniques that promote relaxation, such as deep, slow breaths and mindfulness practices.
Breathing is not just an automatic bodily function; it's a tool for transformation and improved well-being. As yoga teachers, we have the privilege of sharing the gift of mindful breathing with our students. By incorporating these exercises and teachings into our classes, we can help our students connect with their breath, reduce stress, and embark on a journey of self-discovery through the art of breathing. So, let's take a deep breath together and embrace the profound impact it can have on our lives and the lives of our students.
We want to hear from you. How much do you know about the anatomy and science of the breath? Do you incorporate science and anatomy into your classes when it comes to pranayama? What are your favourite pranayama techniques to practice and teach and why? Are you curious to explore more about the science of breath, as well as the ancient techniques of pranayama in your training?