YogaBreak for the Classroom - II 

Breathing


If you have already read the recent post on YogaBreaks for the Classroom, you will have probably  noticed that breath is mentioned many times along the way.

Wether we are teaching a short YogaBreak or a any kind of yoga class, breath will always be mentioned many, many times.  During a yoga practice, we´ll keep coming back to the awareness of breath, on and on.

Breathing is a core aspect in Yoga.

And why do we pay so much attention to breathing in Yoga?

Because there is a very strong link between our breath and our mind / body.

Our breathing alters in pattern and rhythm at different times of the day and in different emotional states, for example: sighing in despair, panting with exhaustion, holding our breath in fear and terror.

Usually we breathe automatically, without thinking about it, but we can also alter our breathing pattern at will, to create the conditions for a more balanced general state.


Because of this unique relationship between our thoughts and body processes, by consciously increasing our awareness about breathing and by practising breathing exercises it is possible to:

  • improve our sense of well-being
  • decrease our level of stress
  • help to bring about interconnectedness between our minds and bodies.

Breath!

We usually breathe in two different ways:

Chest Breathing Breathing and Abdominal or Belly Breathing.

Belly breathing occurs naturally when we are either in a relaxed state or in deep sleep.

Chest breathing is the breath that happens naturally when we are exercising (we see our chest moving upwards and outwards).
However, in our present way of living, we find ourselves "chest breathing" for longer periods of time along our day and not only during exercise or physical activity.

If we constantly use chest breathing, our body gets tense, as if it's under stress; also, breathing this way uses 1/3 of our lung capacity causing our cells to receive much less oxygen than they could at a full, complete breath.

That´s why in our Yoga practice we try to encourage abdominal breathing, to compensate our tendency to chest breath and as a useful tool to help us cope with tiredness, anxiety or stress.

And once the student gets familiar with belly breathing, we can go further into learning the Complete Breath, which covers the whole capacity of the lungs.

Now let me give you some general knowledge on the different basic types of Breathing techniques we can introduce in yoga breaks, followed by a description on how to practice them.

I suggest that you practice at home before sharing these techniques with the children. There´s nothing as self practice to feel confident at the time of sharing the practice with others.


Abdominal or Belly Breathing

In abdominal breathing, when we breathe in (inhalation) our diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle which separates our chest and abdomen) contracts, flattens and moves downwards, sucking air into our lungs. As our diaphragm moves down, it pushes our abdominal contents down, which forces our abdominal wall outwards.

When we breathe out (exhalation) our diaphragm relaxes and air passes out of our lungs. Our abdominal wall moves upwards helping the air to flow out of our lungs.

This is the first stage of a Complete Breath, and we should practice abdominal breath for a while, before going to the next step.

Belly Breathing Practice

  • Choose a comfortable seated pose with your pelvic bones rooted into the surface beneath you, your spine nice and long.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly (abdomen). This will help you to gain an awareness of the movements of your chest and abdomen.
  • Start by taking a slow, deep breath in through your nose. As you breathe in, the hand on your tummy should move outwards (as the abdomen expands) and the hand on the chest should stay completely still. This ensures that your diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of your lungs (not only the upper part of them).
  • Now slowly breathe out for a long count (3, 4-5 sec, depending on the person). As you release the air from your lungs, gently tighten a bit your tummy (abdominal) muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air from your lungs.
    As you do this, you should feel the hand on tummy moving inwards.
  • Repeat this belly breathing cycle 3 or 4 times.

Full Yogic Breath

Full Yogic Breath is a deeply balancing breathing exercise sometimes known as three-part breath because it works with three different sections of the torso and naturally engages all three lobes of the lungs.

Full Yogic Breath relieves stress, refreshes the mind, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, encouraging a calmer, more balanced state of being overall.

It also helps to correct unhealthy breathing patterns.

Full Yogic Breath begins with a deep and fluid inhalation that fills three sections of the torso independently, but continuously:

First, we breathe into the lower abdomen (the belly).

Then, we breathe into the mid-section of the torso, expanding the ribs as the inhalation continues.

And finally, we draw the breath into the upper chest as the inhalation comes to a close.

This slow and purposeful inhalation is then followed by a long, slow, gentle exhale, expelling the breath from these same three sections of the torso in reverse order, releasing the upper chest, then the diaphragm and ribs, and finally the lower abdomen.

One round of Full Yogic Breath includes one complete inhalation and one complete exhalation.

Both the inhalation and the exhalation should feel fluid and continuous; at no point should either one cause any strain whatsoever. Keep in mind that it may take some time to develop a relaxed relationship with this type of breath work, especially if it is new to you; what's important is the intention to develop our capacity for moving the breath intentionally, fluidly, and yet without tension or struggle.

It is helpful to notice that the whole "breathing movement" starts and ends at the belly (releasing the belly to begin the inhalation and softly pushing the belly in, to finish the exhalation, emptying completely.

Full Yogic Breath Practice

  • Choose a comfortable seated pose with your pelvic bones rooted into the surface beneath you, your spine nice and long.
  • Gently close your eyes and take a few moments to settle in.
  • Close your mouth and breathe only through your nostrils.
  • Begin by simply observing the natural flow your breath.
  • When you are ready, inhale slowly and with purpose, drawing your breath deep into the lower abdomen, toward the navel. Initially, focus only on filling the lower abdomen.
  • As the breath fills this area, allow it to expand outward in all directions-to the front (expanding the lower belly), to the sides (expanding the hips), and to the back (expanding the lumbar spine and the sacrum)-as it moves upward toward the navel.
  • Once the lower abdomen has filled completely, continue the inhalation by filling the mid-torso in a similar manner. Continue to draw the breath upwards, from the navel to the ribs, allowing the breath to gently expand the ribs, and the mid-back as the breath continues to rise.
  • Once the mid-torso feels full, complete the inhalation by drawing the breath into the upper chest.
  • This completes the inhalation.
  • For many, there is a brief, but natural pause at the top of the inhalation. If this occurs, just allow it to be there for a moment before surrendering to a long, slow exhalation.
  • First, release the breath from the upper chest as the heart, lungs, sternum all relax-dropping down and drawing in, toward the spine.
  • Then, expel the breath from the mid-torso, feeling the ribs contract and lastly, release the breath form the lower abdomen, feeling the belly contract and the navel draw in, closer to the spine.
  • This completes one round of Full Yogic Breath.
  • If your exhalation is followed by a natural pause, take a moment before beginning the next round. Then, draw a fresh inhalation into the lower abdomen.

After several rounds of Full Yogic Breath, allow your breathing to return to normal for a minute or two before gently opening your eyes and bringing your practice to a close.

Then, before you move on to your next activity, pause briefly to notice how you feel.

As you become more comfortable with the practice of Full Yogic Breath, you can integrate this style of breathing more and more throughout your day-to-day activities.