The way we breathe has strong physiological and mental effects on us. When our breath is erratic, our nervous system tends to be agitated and our mind unfocussed. Conversely, slow, controlled breathing is a great stress release, and is useful for calming emotions and centering the mind. What is not so commonly known is that the breath can also support the body’s posture when active. For example, engaging muscles such as the diaphragm, which are involved in the mechanics of both breathing and posture, can offer significant advantages when it comes to core stability.
Pranayama (yoga breathing exercises), at its most basic, emphasises the use of the diaphragm. And, at a deeper physiological level, it can govern the chemistry of the blood, and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide present. From an emotional perspective, pranayama brings balance and greater clarity. What’s more, as we age, it becomes even more important that pranayama and meditation become the primary focus of any yoga practice. The subtle work of pranayama has more far- reaching effects than does physically focussed exercise. This comes down to the nature of general living, where there is a constant bombardment of stimuli and our nervous system is forever being activated.
Pranayama works to restore calm, so that internal systems such as our cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, and hormonal networks can work together harmoniously and cohesively. Breathing is often taken for granted in the process of day-to-day living, so it is important to take a few moments out to check our inhalations and exhalations are performing optimally, and that we’re running at our best. And such peaceful times also add an often much-needed pause in the day
It is important to seek out a yoga
teacher proficient in pranayama before
commencing. The exercise given below is
a preliminary exercise only. Perform it as a
routine part of your day – perhaps before
every meal, if you can.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, and place your hands on your abdomen. With each inhalation, allow your stomach to distend as it presses upward into your hands. On the exhalation, allow the abdomen to release, feeling the weight of the hands pressing down. The inhalation should happen over a count of four and the exhalation over a count of six. Do this for 5-10 minutes or as time allows.
Vincent Bolletta www.yogashala.co.nz Extract from Fitnesslife 2008