At our classes, we generally begin with simple breath awareness practices such as Makarasana (Crocodile posture). This is not just for grounding and bringing the busy mind at rest. Learning to sense the experience of breathing is so much an integral part of yoga tradition that without it, everything from the performance of asanas to meditation is ineffective or simply not yoga. Breathing is the one thing we are constantly doing but not paying attention to. Breath is a powerful tool that determines the state of your mind.
The Bhagwad Gita talks of “samatvam yoga ucyate” - evenness of mind is called yoga. Samatvam is equanimity of mind and outlook, equipoise. It is being able to keep the mind steady and balanced in all the conditions of life. It is the ability to be forever serene, contented, calm and peaceful. Breath awareness is a key instrument towards this.
It starts with breathing correctly, which basically translates to the following basic characteristics:
Diaphragmatic – The diaphragm is a huge muscle that rests horizontally across the base of the rib. When the diaphragm is used for breathing, there is little motion in the lower abdomen, and the chest remains still. Consciously practicing diaphragmatic breathing leads to effective and efficient breathing as well as calmness of the mind. When you are first learning breathing practices, including breath awareness and diaphragmatic, the use of a sandbag can both increase awareness and strengthen the diaphragm muscle.
Nasal - breathing through your nose is the correct and most optimal way for you to breathe. The simple technique of nasal wash (Jala Neti) in which warm, slightly salted water is flowed from a container into one nostril, and then allowed to flow out the other nostril, has a cleansing effect that allows the breath to flow much more freely.
Deep - With deep breathing, you can reverse symptoms from sympathetic nervous system instantly and create a sense of calm in your mind and body. When you breathe deeply and slowly, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which reverses the stress response in your body. Deep breathing stimulates the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system—the vagus nerve—slowing down your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, and calming your body and mind.
Smooth, Without Sound, Without Pause - When the breath becomes smooth, continuous (without pauses), slow, and quiet, the mind comes along, and also becomes calm and peaceful. The body also comes along, and relaxes much more easily.
There are a variety of postures to train yourself to breath correctly and remove irregularities. The simplest is Shavasana to observe the breath and to remove any jerks and pauses. Crocodile posture or Sandbag breathing is very helpful in developing diaphragmatic breathing. Alternate Nostril breathing is a method where you consciously work with prana by regulating the physical breath in one or the other nostril. It brings balance, and allows the energy to flow in the center, rather than on the left or right side. Walking breath meditation is a wonderful Yoga practice that can be done right in the middle of daily life, and integrates body, breath, and mind. You count internally with exhalation and inhalation, and align this with the steps you are taking while walking.
Breath is the bridge between the body and the mind. Regulate breath, and the body and mind will follow.