The first time I ever tried yoga, I struggled. I found it uncomfortable, awkward and frustrating. I was so frustrated, in fact, that the instructor pulled me aside and suggested I focus on breathwork, instead. I had no idea what that meant — isn’t breathing an involuntary act I did all day long? But I agreed to try.
Together, we took a deep inhale and let out a long, slow exhale. Lo and behold, I felt these chills flow down my body. It felt so good to take a full, deep breath — and that was something I clearly hadn’t been doing. I stuck with yoga and eventually learned to absolutely love it. But back in the early days of my practice, when I couldn’t do the poses or even touch my toes, I could always just sit there and connect with my breath. My breath was always there for me.
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Be it an invigorating yoga flow or a gentle, low-impact workout, breathwork is a wonderful way to center and relax. By breathing deeply, we automatically switch on our parasympathetic nervous system — also known as the rest and digest state. This helps our bodies calm down, thereby reducing our blood pressure. Steady inhalations and exhalations help improve circulation and deactivate our sympathetic nervous system (or our fight-or-flight response).
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Breathwork also can become a powerful and natural alternative or adjunct in dealing with post-traumatic stress, anxiety disorders and other conditions. I think most women can relate to the occasional (and daily for some) pressures and anxieties that plague day-to-day routine, particularly finding balance between motherhood, career and personal aspirations. Breathwork helps and it’s a tool you always have with you — you don’t need any special equipment or apps, which means you can do it at your desk, in your car or while cooking dinner for the kids.
A Beginner’s Guide to Breathwork
To start your own breathwork practice, I recommend beginning with a simple one-to-two ratio. That means the goal is to exhale twice as long as your inhale. If you inhale for a count of two, exhale for a count of four. If you inhale for a count of four, exhale for a count of eight. We have to take the time to breathe. We owe it to ourselves; our bodies crave it.
Another great stress-management technique to help calm yourself down is called “box breathing.” Here, you’ll exhale for a count of four and then hold your lungs empty for a four-count. Next, inhale at the same pace and then hold air in your lungs for a count of four. Then you’ll begin the pattern again. Try doing this for a minute or two and observe how you feel afterward.
Sample Yoga Flow
Breathing deeply is especially important to your yoga practice because it helps prevent injury, assists with energy, and connects your body and mind. There’s a reason you’ll hear yoga instructors warning their class not to hold their breath — it’s surprisingly easy to forget to breathe when you’re in a difficult pose or concentrating really hard. Instead, keep your breath top of mind as you perform the following yoga flow:
1. Sun Salutation A and/or B
2. Warrior Series
- Warrior III
- Warrior II
- Reverse Warrior
- Triangle Pose
3. Balancing Series
- Beginner: Tree
- Intermediate: Figure-4
- Advanced: Eagle
4. Forward Fold/Goddess
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