With holiday preparations and year-end deadlines looming, anyone feeling just a wee bit stressed? Even practicing yogis can feel it! The breath is a direct indicator of our well-being, and when we’re stressed, it can show up in how well we breathe. It is no news that when we cannot breathe fully, we feel stifled or off balance. So how can we affirm a nourishing breath and get the most out of it?
The Power Of A Simple Breath
Like in yoga, there is no single way to breathe, but a simple technique for practicing a healthful, meditative breath is to match the length of inhalation to the length of exhalation. While most of us can actively inhale, our more passive exhalation can often get choked off. Breathing like this is akin to trying to pour an entire glass of water in a glass already half-filled. Without realizing it, we grab for the next big inhalation before we have the capacity to do so.
Donna Farhi, the author of one of my favorite books on the breath, aptly called The Breathing Book, points out when we exhale more fully, this naturally leads to a deeper inhalation, a richer breath. This breathing can be a metaphor for our way of living: like the half-filled glass analogy, it often better serves us to let unnecessary attachments go to make room for new experiences. In yoga, a long exhale can liberate our bodies to more easily move into the next pose. In our daily life, it can feel more rewarding to exhale and keep our To-Do lists reasonable rather than taking on too much.
Return To The Essentials
Through several exercises in her book Farhi encourages us to cultivate an uninhibited, stress-free breath similar to those that we had when we were carefree children. These kinds of breaths are what Farhi calls the essential breath. And it can be easier to tap into this restful breath in a pose as grounding, calming as Balasana, or Child’s Pose. Child’s Pose is welcome anytime during your practice, particularly during times when we might feel overwhelmed whether it’s after a particularly rigorous sequence or during holiday shopping time. This is a pose I often like to start classes with so students can have time to drop all the distractions and focus on their breath, nothing more. This pose is also called by another name, Wisdom’s Pose. That seems especially appropriate since it is often a pose we wisely integrate, where we can rest and reboot.
How To Embrace Your Inner Child:
- To prepare kneel on your mat and bring your big toes together with your knees hip-width apart. Sit on your heels. If this is a lot for your knees, feel free to roll up a blanket like a burrito and wedge it behind your knees.
- Focus on the exhale as you gently bend forward so that your lovely belly falls between your thighs. Relax your neck and lay your forehead against the mat. Lengthen your tailbone down to extend the spine fully. Bring your arms alongside your body, palms face up and shoulders softening down. Direct several long breaths to the back ribs. For more relaxation, inhale through the nose and exhale out of your mouth, letting your jaw hang as you breathe out.
- Create comfort as you modify this pose to fit your needs. If you are working with knee sensitivities, try this on your back, and lightly clasp your hands around your shins. If you can’t sit on your heels comfortably, wedge a rolled blanket behind your knees or use one or two blocks stacked underneath your butt. If your ankles or feet are feeling some strain, roll a blanket or towel under the ankles.
Breathe To Extend Your Life
As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once noted, “He lives most life whoever breathes most air.” Without opportunities to let go, the chances to grow are limited. So by enjoying a longer exhale, we can live the most life. Take back a few precious moments for yourself during these busy seasons as you exhale into your next Child’s Pose.