In yoga there are two aspects for your mind to focus on: the stretch and your breath. Bringing all your attention to your breath has meditative qualities as it frees you from any other thoughts that preoccupy your mind. When stressed or burdened by emotions it is advised to take a minute to focus on your breathing; taking deep inhalations and slow exhalations, bringing a sense of calmness and lowering your heart rate. Pranayama, yogic breathing, influences the flow of energy throughout your body using your nervous system (especially your spine) as the pathway of energy movement.
Our breath is affected by our circumstances and moods. We take more forceful breaths when angry and slower breaths when relaxed. The ratios in which we inhale and exhale vary depending on what state we are in. During sleep exhalations dominate bringing rest, and during the day inhalations predominate as it is influenced by activity and the external environment. Furthermore, the flow of breath also fluctuates between nostrils depending on what we are doing. While thinking, we usually breathe through the left nostril (cool energy) with a greater flow of air and while exercising the right nostril (hot energy) has a greater flow, relating to physical action. Observe it for yourself, its fascinating!
To remain healthy it is very important to pay attention to your breath, it should always be rhythmic and harmonious keeping our bodies balanced. Yoga prescribes breathing breathe through your nose rather than your mouth because when we breathe through our mouths we dissipate unnecessary amounts of energy and water from our body. Most people breathe using only a small portion of their normal lung capacity. Shallow respiration leaves stagnant air in the lower regions of the lungs and gives rise to ailments and ill health. By learning to breathe deeper, using our normal lung capacity, we will quickly feel to influx of energy paving the way to better physical wellbeing.
Chest breathing is the shallowest type of breathing. The chest and shoulders are engaged during this type of breathing. When you inhale your chest and shoulders rise and as you exhale the sink down. People who breathe in this way for most of the day often complain of neck and shoulder pain. The next type is diaphragmatic breathing, this is deeper than chest breathing, the ribcage is engaged during this type of breathing. When you inhale your ribs move upwards and outwards and as you exhale the move downwards and inwards. People who breathe in this way for most of the day often complain of upper and middle back pain. Abdominal breathing is the deepest form of breathing, and uses maximum lung capacity. Inhalations cause the abdomen to expand outwards and exhalations cause the abdomen to contract inwards. This type of breathing leads to greater vitality and cell oxygenation.
To increase lung capacity, try the ‘complete breath’ exercise, it also has blood purifying properties. Sitting in a crossed legged position with your back straight, or lying down on your back, breathe as slow as possible focusing on the lowest to the highest part of your lungs. As you inhale feel your abdomen expanding, then still inhaling feel your rid cage widen and lastly reaching up to full capacity feel your chest lift up. Retain your breath for at least 6 seconds. As you exhale draw your abdomen inwards, followed by a narrowing of your ribcage and finally feeling your chest drop downwards as you completely exhale. Retain the hollow sensation for 6 seconds. Repeat this for 10 breaths and you will feel yourself breathing deeper and using more of your lung capacity during the day!