I get asked this so much. And honestly, it took me years to really get it. Learning how to breathe properly mainly comes through patience and the ability to listen to yourself. To listen to what your body is telling you. ‘Am I tight here?’, ‘do I feel breathless?’ or ‘how long have I been holding my breath for?!’. And to listen to your mind. ‘Where is this frustration coming from’, ‘am I doing this right?’ and ‘how long have I been thinking about lunch for?!’.
These are all valuable insights we get from slowing down through Yoga. And learning how to breathe properly helps us to feel calmer, more relaxed and helps us to answer those valuable questions.
Breathing has helped me so incredibly much – it helped me to stay calm when my Dad passed away 2 years ago, it helped me to handle the stresses of running a business, and it helped me to keep my cool when I moved to the other side of the world alone! It helps me to settle my nerves before I do a live yoga class so I can teach calmly and confidently to help other women feel their best.
How I learnt to breathe properly
I’ve always been an anxious person. Worried about what others thought of me, so concerned over how my words affected someone else that I would overthink it for days. I’d then stress over doing everything perfectly to make sure everyone liked me. I would come home from my day at work in a complete fog because my brain was so overworked. Stress was a constant for me. I was practicing yoga, but only occasionally and I wasn’t really getting into it. I’d rush through a few Sun Salutations just to say I’d done it, all the while thinking about the day that had just been and the evening that was coming. I found I never allowed myself to enjoy being in the moment.
It all changed when I took the time to focus less on the movement, and more on the breath. The change came about when I was watching my partner breathe. He has asthma (and we have pets…) so he’s always been so in-control of his breathing (any panic and loss of control could land him in hospital). He was lying in-front of the TV and was so easily breathing into his belly. He’s a very chilled guy, I’ve never seen him panic, hardly see him stressed and he always sees the bright side of life. I put that down to his ability to keep a cool head and keep his body calm, consistently. He learnt how to breathe properly from a very early age, and so it comes naturally to him.
But it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us, and it’s such a valuable skill to learn. Then from that moment on, I chose to slow down my yoga movements and focus more on breathing properly. The effects were instant. Before, I’d feel energised and refreshed with a slight sense of calm after doing some yoga. Now I felt relaxed, peaceful and immensely calm as well as energised and refreshed.
What most of us experience when breathing in yoga
Because breathing is so automatic, it can feel very strange when we bring our focus to breathing. We quite often become breathless. Then we become frustrated. Then we blame ourselves for not getting it right. If this happens, pause for a moment, notice the frustration and say a little hello to it. It doesn’t have to take over. You can let it go with the intention that all you’re doing is trying.
We also might get confused in a yoga class because there are so many breath cues, and often they’re hard to follow. This is especially the case if you’re new to yoga and new to breathing. It can feel difficult to take a big breath in and hold it, and even harder to push breath all the way out. Then it becomes even harder when we judge ourselves for not being able to do it.
Then there’s the added stress of making sure we’re actually breathing in a way that encourages relaxation and not anxiety. When we’re asked to take a big breath in, most of us inflate our chest and suck in our belly. Unfortunately, this isn’t the most helpful way to relax!
Learning how to breathe properly just takes a little patience and self-practice. Like anything good in life, right?!
Why is breathing properly so important?
Breathing is incredibly powerful as it’s one of the functions in our body we have control over – we can slow it down and speed it up at will. When our breathing speeds up, it alerts our brain to kick into the fight or flight response – something we know triggers feelings of stress. Prolonged states of stress can lead us to a lot of health issues. When we’re aware of this stressed feeling, we have the incredible power to slow our breathing down and switch out of this state. Shifting out of stress can be as simple as belly breathing for 1 minute.
How to breathe properly with these 3 yoga poses
Firstly, before you do any yoga session or breathing meditation, go into it with an intention. An intention that focuses on learning or simply trying, instantly takes the pressure off. Like learning any new skill, it’s about small steps forwards. And whilst breathing is automatic, we get into bad habits like shallow breathing, breathing into our chest and yawning all the time. And these 3 yoga poses help us to shift those bad habits and teach us how to breathe properly!
This is nice and simple, and totally what I recommend first. Breathe in, breathe out. Choose the count you’d like to go for, 3 or 4 is usually best to start with. You can do this sitting, or lying down and it’s gorgeous to do before bed. You can do this with arm movements (shown) to get a bit of rhythm going, or simply breathe. The most powerful way to relax with this type of breathing is to breathe into your belly too – diaphragmatic breathing.
My favourite! This emphasizes breathing into the belly first. It can be done in any position, but when starting off it’s easiest lying down. When you’ve got a hang of this breathing you can use it to instantly calm you down. Word of warning though, the first few times you do this you might feel breathless, as if you want to take a deep breath or yawn; it’s totally normal!
Lie down with your legs bent. Rest one hand on your lower belly and one hand on your chest. (If you want to feel totally supported and relaxed, pop a pillow under your head, and another under your knees. It’s delicious.)
Take a big, normal breath out and on your next inhale bring the breath into your belly, letting it inflate and push into your hand. Be aware not to lift your chest, or let the chest inflate. Then, on your exhale, let your belly completely drop and feel your hand sink – suck your belly muscles in as if you were trying to get your belly button to your spine.
Do this a few times, counting equal breaths (breathe in 3, out 3)
I love this because it makes me feel like a butterfly! It’s also great if you’re sitting, or if a yoga pose is putting pressure into your belly, making it hard to try diaphragmatic breathing. Rib-cage breathing helps with posture, and therefore confidence. It helps to energize your body and reduce fatigue. Yummy!
Sit on a chair or floor for this one. Place your hands on your ribs, fingers in-front and thumbs behind. Round your back very slightly, guiding your shoulders forwards a little. Take a breath in and feel your ribs expand to the sides and back. As you exhale, allow them to ‘close’ again. Give this a go for 3-4 times then get back to normal breathing. This is best done for a maximum of 4 times, as it’s easy to get breathless!
And that’s it! As usual, these things take time but the effects are so powerful. Learning how to breathe properly helps us to sleep, helps us to tackle stress and helps us to calm down when the anxiety kicks in. It’s free to practice, take a few moments and we all have the ability – how amazing is that?! We practice learning how to breathe properly all the time over in my Yoga LIVE group, so if you’re wanting a helping hand with your practice at home – join us now! 🙂