I rolled out my yoga mat on the carpet in my living room and turned on the video. A beautiful tall slim woman with blonde hair and a dreamy lilting voice instructed me into a twist.
“Take a deep breath”
I did as instructed.
“Are you breathing?” she said with more than a hint of condescension
I “uh huh”-ed her under my breath
“Take a deep breath”
Didn’t we already just do that?
“Remember to breathe”
She was making me feel like an idiot.
Then she smiled smarmily at the camera, raised an eyebrow and asked goadingly, “Are you breathing?”
Before I knew it I was up off my mat and nose to nose with the television yelling expletives. The point I was making with my colourful language was I know how to **** ***breath.
I decided that yoga videos were not for me.
Instead I started taking yoga classes. It felt good to move in-synch with inhales and exhales. When the teacher would talk about ‘sending the breath’ or “asking the breath to help release a muscle” I would play along. It sounded nice and felt good.
Eleven years later I became a yoga teacher. I taught pranayama or breathing exercises. I had come a long way from the girl who screamed at the television but secretly I was nervous about sounding like the annoying one-piece leotard-wearing teacher from the video. I knew how to breathe myself, I knew the breath was important, I knew it worked but I still didn’t really know why.
A year ago I had some complications from a health condition that caused part of my lung to collapse. I was referred to a breathing specialist who told me I wasn’t breathing properly. I was mortified. Even though I knew something about breathing it did not make me immune. Extreme stress plus the changes in my lung had kicked my regular breathing pattern out of whack. My irregular breathing made the room spin with a vertigo-like sensation every time I stood up. I had constant fatigue and gasping for air left me constantly panicked. My breathing was stressing out my nervous system. “It’s good you caught this early” she reassured me.
I had to learn how to breath all over again.
This time I also wanted to know why it was so important.
Shallow or irregular breathing can cause depression, anxiety, hyperventilation and extreme tiredness. It reduces the amount of C02 to be absorbed into the blood and organs.
Breathing fully and deeply calms the mind, the nervous system and increases circulation. It also strengthens our immune systems, relieves pains, gets rid of toxins, strengthens our abdominal muscles, boosts energy levels and even helps weight control. On top of all that it elevates our moods.
When a massage therapist or yoga teacher instructs a deep breath into a tight muscle it’s not just because it sounds or feels good. Short, hard muscles are often squeezing the blood cells around them so much that the blood can’t get through to rescue them. The pressure from a massage therapist or a pose from a yoga teacher highlights the tense areas where we need more oxygenated blood, taking a deep breath at that moment relaxes the pathways to help it get to it’s destination. Once there the body has an amazing ability to heal itself.
Breathing is something we do unthinkingly every day but putting some thought into breathing can change our lives.