A huge part of yoga is pranayama, or breath work. Without this practice, you probably wouldn’t feel the stress-reducing benefits of yoga as much as you could. So when I see my students going blue in the face (ok I’m exaggerating) even during a simple warm up sequence, I always try to guide them through their inhales and exhales.
But how can you do this on your own?
There are a few ways to remember to breathe consciously while you’re getting your workout in class.
1. Set an Intention
If you get into the practice of setting an intention to mindfully breathe throughout the class, you’ll train yourself to remember the importance of pranayama.
In those beginning moments of a flow, when things are still and start slow, you can say to yourself that you purposefully intend to think about your breathing. Make that your personal theme for the class, or your personal mission. Even if you happen to forget halfway through, every time you set your intention afterward, you’ll slowly start to reinforce that purpose until you get it right.
2. Practice Belly Breathing
You’re probably familiar with your Mixx instructors telling you to expand your belly when you inhale and then pull the belly button in when you exhale. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly-breathing” as I like to call it sometimes. Remembering to keep this dynamic going throughout class will keep you more mindful of your breath.
When you breathe this way, you are controlling your diaphragm, which rests just under your lungs. So many people mistakenly think they should pull in their stomach on the inhale and let it release on the exhale, but this works against the natural functioning of the diaphragm, a muscle which contracts on the inhale, then relaxes on the exhale.
It’s all about taking advantage of the how the diaphragm works to breathe more efficiently. The more you expand your belly on an inhale, the more space your lungs have to take in air because the diaphragm has contracted away from them. The more you pull in your stomach on the exhale, the more you are relaxing your diaphragm, which naturally rests against your lungs, thereby pushing more air out of those organs.
3. Practice Ocean Breath
You can combine diaphragmatic breathing with what we lovingly refer to as Ocean Breath to stay more aware of your breath. “Ocean Breath” refers to when you slightly contract the muscles in your throat in order to produce a noise while breathing that sounds like the movement of waves in the ocean.
It’s handy because when you notice that you can’t hear your breath during class, you’ll realize that you lost track of it, then start to think about it more consciously by triggering Ocean Breath again.
This technique slows down and controls your breathing to make it more steady, which allows you to count out your breaths so you can practice on making them longer. Plus, when you contract your throat muscles and exhale deeply, you are making the vagus nerve vibrate, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — the one that makes you calm down.
4. Check Yourself in Difficult Poses
Anytime you’re feeling challenged in class, check your breathing. You’re probably holding your breath because of the stress, but if you get back into it, you’ll give your body the energy it needs to keep up its performance.
If you get into the habit of recognizing which poses or parts of class make you hold your breath, you’ll be one mindful step closer to undoing the conditioning to hold your breath during stressful moments.
Overall, these tips will make you feel more relaxed and give you the tools to deal with stress in or out of the studio.