Yoga Bites: Treat every breath like the gift it is

By Sarah Hundley/Special to the Triplicate March 20, 2012 12:00 am

Yoga Bites appears every four weeks.

Are you still breathing? I bet you inhaled a tad deeper just now after I brought it to your attention.

We spend far too much time being unaware of our breathing. Conscious breathing is a simple and powerful way to increase vitality and clarity, decrease stress and anxiety, regulate moods, enliven and even enlighten.

Breathing exercises can be practiced anywhere, anytime.  Becoming aware of the breath instantaneously shifts one into a higher consciousness, and profoundly into the present moment.

Pranayama, the yogic practice of breath control, is much more than breathing exercises. Prana is Sanskrit for the energy and life force that permeates the universe at all levels. Yogis feel that we are breathing in much more than life-sustaining oxygen with every inhalation.

There is a secret to deep breathing, and it is this: begin at the end. Deep, healing breaths begin with a complete exhalation.

Try it: inhale deeply through your nose and let it out effortlessly, then squeeze your abdominal muscles to press out even more.  Afterward you’ll naturally drink in a deeper inhalation. With practice over time, mindful breathing will soon become second nature, and revolutionize your well-being.

When you feel anxious or worried, how do you breathe? Quick and shallow, almost as though struggling to keep your head above water, right? How about when you feel calm and content? Slow, deep and full, as though being embraced by a beloved at sunset.

Throughout most of each hectic day our breathing fluctuates erratically in reaction to a myriad of physical and mental stimuli.  Yoga teaches us that we can control our emotions and mood by breathing consciously, just as our erratic auto-pilot breathing can affect our mind.

Lie on your back and place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Breathing in and out through your nose, begin to gradually deepen and lengthen each respiratory cycle. Feel the breath effortlessly lift your belly and float your chest. Imagine on an inhale that you are drawing oxygen deep down to the very bottom of your lungs. Drink it in and fill up to the middle of your lungs, then sip in even more air into the very top of your lungs.  Pause calmly at the top of the inhale before exhaling slowly through the nose, as you press out every last drop.

Continue breathing fully here for as long as you like. How do you feel? Now place both hands on either side of your ribcage, and feel your inhalation expand you from the inside out, and then the exhalation hugs you into center.  Breathe easy and free. Breathe in positive, healing, loving light, and breathe out anything you don’t want, any outer or inner body tensions, all negativity. Can you feel as though you are being breathed rather than “doing” the breathing?

Now release your hands out to your sides, soft palms turn skyward. Feel the ebb and flow of each breath wave. Imagine that your belly is the ocean and your chest is the shore. Feel the breath wave rise effortlessly in the ocean of your belly, and washing wash up onto the shore of your chest.  Now allow the breath wave to recede naturally down the shore of your chest, back into the ocean of your belly, giving rise to the next breath wave cycle.  Ride the waves.

Commonly we are told to “take” a breath. Let’s shift our perspective and view each breath as the precious gift that it is. The gift of life. A life with no guarantees of another breath or moment. Receive the gifts of each new moment with a thankful, open heart, and breathe easy.

Sarah Hundley, a certified yoga instructor and massage therapist, owns Shambala Studio in Crescent City. Email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it