Better breathing on and off the yoga mat. By Anders Olsson 

We all know that yoga helps people to reduce stress. Some of the main reasons for this are linked to the impact that our yoga practice has on our breathing. On the mat, our focus is very much on our breathing. Also, yoga has a number of different postures that are aimed at creating open airways and well functioning breathing muscles. As the well known spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, once said after doing breath retraining for a few weeks: “It has helped
me, magically.”

However, just because we breathe in a certain way during an exercise doesn’t mean that we should breathe like that in our daily life. Even though it’s highly likely that yogis have better breathing habits outside the yoga mat than other people, my experience is that the power of our breath in our daily life is usually either overlooked, or has room for improvement – even amongst yogis. Now let’s look at the flip side: how certain breathing patterns can invite stress in. There are three very efficient ways to increase stress in our body by altering our breathing. We can breathe fast and shallow through our mouth; we can hold our breath; and, finally, we can tighten our airways.

If we do any of these things, we will set our body on red alert (moving to fight or flight) and increase stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These three ways of breathing are pretty much the opposite of the five conscious breathing principles listed below. Follow these simple tips for better breathing in your everyday life, away from
the yoga mat.

One important aspect (that is often forgotten) is that we have to distinguish between yoga breathing exercises and daily breathing habits. In other words, whether we’re talking about good breathing habits outside the yoga mat, or if it’s an exercise specifically for the yoga mat aimed at creating a particular result. Here are some examples:

  • Breath of fire to increase energy
  • Alternate nostril breathing to balance the autonomic nervous system
  • Count to 4 on the inhale, hold for 7, and then count to 8 on the exhale to increase relaxation
  • Inhale through the nose and exhale through pursed lips to increase lung pressure and muscle relaxation.

I find it fascinating how we can change the entire state of our body in yoga simply by altering our breathing. However, there still seems to be this lack of knowledge or even misunderstanding among us yogis as to how to breathe when we’re away from our beloved mats. And so I explored what constitutes good breathing habits in our daily life. I came up with the five principles of conscious breathing, the result of several years of studying available literature and scientific research on breathing, as well as experimenting with my own body.

Anders Olsson is the founder of Conscious Breathing (consciousbreathing.com)

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