The Power of Breathing
Thursday, August 25, 2011
"Breathing is 100 times more powerful than the movement." I've said this line many times in my career as a yoga teacher. Somehow, when I did my first yoga teacher training course, I started to learn and experience how important our breathing is. Others in my course understood the power of headstands, or of the sun salutations, or of many other aspects of yoga. I got the breath. My passion for the breath has influenced how I teach since my very first class. I keep learning more about the anatomy of the breathing, how breathing helps to calm the nervous system, how the breathing focuses our mind on our bodies and movement (as opposed to thinking about the dishes that need to be done or the bills that need to be paid) and how our breathing can influence our energy levels and emotions. I love how learning to pay attention to the breath keeps me present in the moment and therefore is restorative and revitalizing. I love the feel of the studio when everyone is quiet and breathing together. Focusing on the breath gives our hard working minds a regular break! I have always believed that if you can breathe, you can do yoga - whether it is a very gentle practice sitting in a chair or lying in bed, or a more vigorous class. Yoga and qigong can be done for our entire lives.
Students who work with me for a while get really good at breathing: paying attention to their breath, and moving their breath in a smooth, relaxed, deep and soothing way. At the start of every class we spend 5-10 minutes either seated or lying down and focusing on our breath. We are very quiet, relaxed, focused and calm. We then take that relaxed and calm focus into the practice. All of my students are gifted in different aspects of the yoga practice, and if I was to pick one person as an example of a very skilled breather, it would be Cathy Outram. Like me, she was hooked on the breathing before the postures (I think) and she got good at it and has just kept improving in the years that she has done yoga. Students and guests to a class, with her in it, will often comment on how lovely her Uijyia breathing is. It sets a lovely tone for the class - whether we are moving slowly or quickly. A few weeks ago, Cathy was in a car accident and thankfully she is fine, but her bones and muscles got shaken up. 3 days after her accident Cathy was at our Monday evening yoga class and she moved carefully and slowly to support the process of healing her body. Although she wasn't able to do her regular postures, she was able to use her regular breathing practice to ease her body into modified positions. Cathy has continued to come to yoga every week since her accident and she is slowly gaining her strength and ease back (she is also using other therapies to help with the healing). I think the real gift of her yoga dedication over the past years is that she has these skills to move in a quiet, soothing and respectful way for her body. She has a practice of breathing, and movement that will support her on her journey to recovery. She is an inspiration to all of us on Monday evenings.