Want to to learn how to really embody your breath in order to take bigger, deeper breaths and rest more fully as a result? Read on.
“Inhale, raise your arms. Exhale, fold forward. Inhale, rise up to a half forward bend. Exhale step, or jump, back to Chataurunga.”
As a yoga student, I’m sure you recognize this phrase from just about every vinyasa class in which you’ve practiced. Ironically, the most frequent phrase I hear from students after teaching a vinyasa class is: “I love yoga, but I don’t get the breathing part.” That’s when I usually laugh and say, “Of course you get the breathing part! You’re alive!”
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All humans inhale and exhale 24/7, but rarely are we aware of the breath in the course of our daily lives. It is during a yoga practice that we have the opportunity to become more aware of our respiratory patterns. We get to look at the quality, pacing, fullness, and texture of our inhalations and exhalations; we get to pause and appreciate the breath’s profound ability to create vitality and well-being. As we become more mindful of our breathing, naturally the question arises: Why do we need to bring awareness to the breath when respiration happens automatically?
The response is three-fold. First, on a physical level, if we coordinate movement with breath, movement becomes more effective and efficient. Then, from a physiological perspective, the breath regulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous responses (the autonomic nervous system). Finally, from a psychological viewpoint, this regulation can help us cultivate better stress management techniques. In other words, when we manage the quality of our breath, we have the ability to influence our relaxation responses.
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It is important to keep in mind that breath is three-dimensional. Our lungs expand and condense forward and back, side-to-side, and up and down. By preparing the muscles of the body to support these natural shape changes, your breath capacity will be greatly enhanced, movement will be more effective, and the reactions of the autonomic nervous system will sustain greater resiliency. Because most people have postural and muscular imbalances, the body needs to be primed through yoga postures to achieve maximum results from respiration.
The following sequence will prepare your body for optimal breathing and as a happy result, relaxation. By stretching and freeing up space in tight muscles, strengthening weak postural muscles, and toning the diaphragm—the major muscle of respiration—you will attain a deeper and more efficient breath.
This Sequence Will Help You Breathe and Relax
30 Yoga Sequences to Reduce Stress
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Transform your quarter-life crisis into a calling.
This sequence, designed by Coby Kozlowski, focuses on helping 20-somethings cultivate awareness from the inside out—and face the challenge of living that practice in as many moments as possible.
Learn more about Kozlowski’s Quarter-Life Calling: Creating an Extraordinary Life in Your 20’s.
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5-step sequence that focuses on cultivating awareness
5 Common Poses That Can Cause Injury in Hyper-Mobile Practitioners
Plus, five smart ways to stabilize your muscles so you stay safe
If I had a nickel for every person that told me they were not flexible enough to do yoga, I would be a very rich woman. The misunderstanding that yoga is all about flexibility is incredibly common and, for certain body types, can actually be quite dangerous.
Yoga is about finding balance: mental balance, as in an even mind, and physical balance, as in a well-aligned pose. This means honoring both flexiblity and strength. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe this concept as sthira and sukha—stability and ease.
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Unfortunately, with today’s look-at-me social media culture, the poses that get most circulated and come to represent the public’s view of yoga tend to be performed by very bendy people. Yet even though yoga is so much more than that leg-behind-the-head posture, yoga is still equated with flexibility. Students are encouraged to go deeper in every shape. For a person who is already naturally flexible—a body type we call “hyper-mobile”—this can feel quite good, because it is familiar. What’s more, being able to achieve a big shape often feeds the ego, as people may feel they are then doing the pose “well.”
For these reasons, hyper-mobile bodies tend to be attracted to yoga. On the flip side, a stiff person may feel uncomfortable and challenged. The irony here is that it is actually flexible bodies that are most at risk for injury in yoga.
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People with extreme flexibility tend to move from their joints versus their muscles. Joints are where two bones link together; they are made up of ligaments, which attach bone to bone, and tendons, which connect the muscle to the bone. When ligaments or tendons are over-stretched or torn, they do not heal! This is because they are comprised of connective tissue and have a limited blood supply. Keep stretching out an elastic and one day it will snap, as is evidence by the numerous yoga teachers coming forward with injuries and surgeries (myself included!).
In order to have a sustainable and safe practice, bendy bodies benefit from balancing the lengthening with strengthening. This is going to change the feel of the practice, from one of feel-good stretching to one of stability and control. It will mean not going to the edge of every shape and instead, pulling back to come closer to balance. This may prevent you from putting your feet on your head in a deep backbend (sorry!), but it also encourages you to practice for tomorrow and the day after that—not just today’s Instagram post.
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Here are some classical shapes in which hyper-mobile practitioners tend to over-stretch, and smart ways to stabilize.
5 Poses That May Cause Injury in Hyper-Mobile Practitioners
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