Breathing Into Stillness

In today’s modern world we are constantly moving, digitally connected and “busy”.

If you were to stop and inhale right now, where would the breath travel to in your body? Would it constrict in your throat or chest? Or would it flow with ease deep into your belly?

The simple act of taking the time to stop and breathe can completely reset our nervous system, leading to a feeling of peace.

“Breathing slowly and mindfully activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body.” [1]

In yoga philosophy, our breath (prana) is our life force energy and in Chinese philosophy it’s referred to as Qi. A healthy mind, body and soul is filled with prana/Qi, so it’s no surprise that breath forms the foundation of yoga, Qigong and other similar practices. Pranayama (breath control) is one of Pantanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga; given equal importance (along with 6 other limbs) to the physical postures (asanas).

There are many breath techniques used in yoga, all with different benefits. In this blog I’ll look at ways we can breathe and observe to find stillness.


Breath in Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is the perfect opportunity to practice stillness of breath. Yin by nature is about letting go; and this includes releasing control on the breath. In deep held yin postures, allow your breath to find it’s natural rhythm.

When you wait for your lungs to inhale (trusting that they will, as and when needed) you discover length to the breath. In this length there is space and stillness. Relax deeply and trust the intelligence of your body.

Which parts of your body does your breath reach? ~ Where does it become stuck?

Can you deepen your breath to invite opening into these places?


Breath in Yang Yoga

Awareness of breath can also deepen your “yang” practice.

Nothing is ever completely yin or yang (see my blog – Balancing Yin and Yang Energy). Breathing fully into your body can help balance the strength and intensity of a yang practice, inviting more internal awareness, presence and depth.

When your muscles receive oxygen, tension releases, helping you to soften into postures. Focus on inhaling as you find alignment in your posture and exhaling as you soften and relax into the posture. Stay in posture for 5 full rounds of breath (inhale and exhale = 1 round), finding a little more depth with each exhale. It need not be a lot of depth each exhale. The focus is on connecting internally and unifying breath with movement to create harmony and ease.

When you connect breath with movement in yoga you bring mindfulness to your practice. A general guide is to inhale as you open your body (i.e. expand, extend or lengthen your body or limbs) and exhale as you close your body (i.e. fold, twist).

Flowing with your natural breath and maintaining a consistent rhythm to your breath provides a balance between effort and ease (yang and yin) in your practice.

Can you mindfully bring your feet together when you exit a posture?

Can you find lightness on your mat as you gently step your feet into a posture?

Inhale as you move slowly and mindfully. Exhale as you ground your feet – simultaneously rooting energy down and drawing energy up.

“Walk as if you were kissing the Earth with your feet.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh


Meditating on the Breath

There are many calming breath techniques used in yoga, one being: Anapana – meditation on the flow of breath in and out of the nostrils. Anapana provides a single point of focus (Dharana), helping to calm the mind and attain stillness.

In my personal meditation practice I like to begin by becoming aware of the breath in my body; observing where it travels to. Some days my breath is expansive and full, reaching all the way to the tips of my toes. Other days it stops short – tight in my chest or heart centre. Observation on the breath is an invitation to objectively explore what’s going on internally. Even (and especially) if my breath falls short I gradually deepening my breath so I can feel it expand in my body.

Yoga teaches us to constantly remain open. At times when the body closes, it’s an invitation to breathe deeper. Eventually your breath will settle, becoming subtle and still. At this point there is no control on the breath and the stillness between each breath expands. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali this easy, unintentional retention of breath is referred to as “kevala kumbhaka” and usually occurs in deep meditation [2].


Lessons in Nature

Nature too provides lessons on stillness.

Have you ever noticed that even on windy days there is stillness?

The wind is never constant. At times it howls through wind channels and rustles through the leaves of trees. Then it eases.

If you sit observing the wind you’ll notice that there are spaces of stillness. Like the ocean, the wind has it’s own natural rhythm.

When you can observe the space (the yin between the yang) calm descends on your body. When you can breathe into this stillness, you can begin to transform your yoga practice, on and off the mat.

Observe the spaces of stillness in your own life and in your yoga practice. Breathe into them. Experience them fully and draw out their length. Then observe how this simple action transforms you.


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