I love when my students ask questions. One of the most asked about topics is the breath. During Yoga Moves online classes, many ask insightful and pertinent questions about how to breathe correctly. As long as you are alive, you are a breathing human being, and as my teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn is known for saying, “as long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong.” We often forget this principle and there is much anxiety around how to breathe. A breath practice should be accessible to Any Body, and nobody should be made to feel like they are doing it wrong.
Simple steps to improve your breathing practice
Observe your breath as you breathe in and out through your nose.
Do not try to control or change your breath in any way.
Feel the sensation of breathing. Notice where the breath is most pronounced in your body. Where do you feel movement when you breathe?
Practice non-judgment. There is no “right” or “wrong.” For instance “slow” is not “good,” and “fast” is not “bad.”
Your mind will wander. That is what it is meant to do. When it wanders, simply acknowledge the thought. You may say to yourself, “thinking.” Then direct your attention back to your breath with compassion.
Continue to rest your awareness in the movement and sensation of breathing.
Express gratitude to yourself for taking the time to focus on your breath as an act of self-care.
We breathe an average of 25,000 times per day. It is safe to say that we do not do anything as much as we inhale and exhale. According to experts, most individuals, as many as 70% to 80%, can improve the way in which they breathe. The World Health Organization estimates that hundreds of millions of people suffer from chronic respiratory diseases including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, sleep apnea, and asthma. Excluding undiagnosed cases, 25% of the adult US population has sleep apnea. Apnea can result in a myriad of conditions including Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), diabetes, and high blood pressure. Surprisingly, many with apnea are undiagnosed.
Research indicates that a functional breath is:
Low (in the belly and diaphragmatic)
Through the nose
Soft like a gentle breeze
Breathing is a primary biological function and can impact every dimension of your life. Attuning to the breath can result in a calmer nervous system, improved ability to cope with stress and pain, better quality sleep and an overall sense of ease and well-being.
According to research, breathwork has the power to impact several common conditions including:
Asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases
Cardiac function and circulation
As if the above stated reasons are not enough to convince you to embark upon a breath awareness practice, know that attention to the breath is fundamental to a yoga practice and is the first step to building your mindfulness “muscles”. When you attune to your breath, you are developing the ability to be in the present moment. In fact, a great way to begin a meditation practice is to focus on your breath.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that refers to conscious breathing exercises. For ages, yoga breathing practices and skills have been passed down through the generations. These, combined with more modern methods, backed by research, can be added to your Yoga Moves toolbox. They all aim to increase vital energy. The way we breath impacts our experience and is closely tied to our emotions. What if you could be empowered to feel better with simple and safe breathing techniques? The first step is to begin the New Year with an awareness of breath practice. The concepts are simple. Now let’s put them into action.
Begin with an Awareness of Breath Practice
Begin with an Awareness of Breath practice for a few minutes either when you awaken in the morning or go to sleep at night. You can hit your “refresh” button at any time of the day, and pause for a brief 30-second breath break which can trigger the relaxation response. When you attune to your breath, it often slows down and lengthens which creates a feeling of calm and relaxes the nervous system.
Prepare for breath awareness by finding a comfortable position, seated with a tall spine or lying down. You may wish to set a timer for a minute or two, and gradually increase the time to three to five minutes as you feel comfortable with your practice.
Is it ever appropriate to mouth breathe?
For the most part, nasal breathing is preferable. The main exception is for competitive athletes who may use nasal and mouth breathing.
Does taking a deep breath mean taking a big breath?
Breathing deep refers to breathing low in the belly and is required for abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing. Shallow breathing is associated with chest breathing.
This article was originally published in the Michigan Parkinson’s Foundation’s winter 2023 newsletter. The Yoga Moves MS classes at 10a.m. EST on Wednesday and Friday are sponsored by the Michigan Parkinson’s Foundation and we are so happy to have their support in bringing adaptive yoga to people with neuromuscular conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.
Mindy Eisenberg, MHSA, C-IAYT is the Founder and Director of Yoga Moves MS, a non profit 501C (3) with the mission of improving the quality of life for individuals with MS, Parkinson’s disease, and neuromuscular conditions. She is the author of Adaptive Yoga Moves Any Body, created for individuals with MS and neuromuscular conditions and Adaptive Yoga Cards, daily yoga moves for all ages and abilities. Mindy has provided yoga therapy to individuals with mobility challenges for over 18 years and thrives on building a strong, mighty community for her students and families. She is a qualified Mindfulness-Based Stress reduction teacher, Certified Buteyko Breathing Instructor, and Reiki Master. Her experience as a healthcare administrator at the University of Michigan Medical Center contributes to her ability to bring the Yoga Moves philosophy of healing and the importance of the mind–body relationship to the healthcare arena. Mindy presents for national, corpo- rate and yoga therapy organizations, and has trained hundreds of adaptive yoga instructors. She has a Bachelor of Science from Northwestern University and a Master of Health Services Administration from the University Michigan. She lives with her husband, and puppies, Felix and Oscar in Franklin, Michigan and enjoys visiting her daughter and son, Julia and Noah, in New York City.
In her spare time, she likes to read, kayak, hike, garden, and expand her cultural awareness at the theater, dance, and museums. She views herself as a perpetual student and loves to take classes on a variety of subjects.