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Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Yinside of Breathing

The Yinside of Breathing 

Surfing the Ocean Breath
Surfing the Ocean Breath
The key activity that turns off the fight-or-flight system and activates the rest-&-digest system is breathing. Not just any old breath, but a proper yogic breath. A slow, deep, even breath will create a relaxed nervous system, yielding a calm mind, which in turn will help the breath become slower and more even. A positive feedback loop can be established that increases the effectiveness of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and increase GABA production. 

There are many forms of breathwork in yoga (called pranayamas). Some are very active and stimulating, and there are times when these pranayamas are beneficial, but to turn on the PNS, we need the slow, deep pranayama known as ujjayi. Ujjayi means "victorious breath". A nice modern term for this kind of breathing is "ocean breathing." 

Max says that ocean breathing "enlivens the lungs and expands them, dynamically pulling in fresh air (prana) and then expelling stale air and stress (apana). It is known for calming the mind and can also be very effective for helping to process grief."

In his book, The Heart of Yoga, Desikachar suggests, "In pranayama we focus our attention on the breath. In the practice of pranayama it is therefore very important to keep an alert mind, for the processes that are being observed are very subtle. There is no visible movement."

Desikachar recommends our attention be first focused on the exhalation. Practice watching your out-breath until you know everything about it. Only then, allow your awareness to encompass the inhalations. Know everything about the in-breath. Don't worry about the practice of retaining your breath, of holding the breath with lungs full or empty. Save that for a full pranayama practice; no need to do these pauses for more than a second or two while you are doing your Yin Yoga practice.

Instead, work on allowing your ocean breath to lengthen. Notice: we are advising you to allow your breath to lengthen. Don't force it. Surf the breath. If a surfer fights the ocean, he'll just get all wet. Flow with the waves of each breath. Desikachar advises that lengthening the breath, while okay, is not the point. The point is to do whatever it takes to stay focused and present, paying attention to the breath. However, there definitely are physiological and psychological benefits to an extended breath.    

The Yinside of Breathing: A slow ocean breath while you are holding your poses will reduce stress, activate your rest & digest system, improve your heart and lungs function, lower blood pressure and lead towards a healthier and happier life.