Benefits of Breathing

January 26, 2022

When most people think of yoga, besides poses, they think about breathing. In Sanskrit, breathing is referred to as Pranayama. There are eight limbs to yoga, and Pranayama is considered the fourth limb. We'll get into the other limbs in future weeks.

Why is there so much focus on breath during yoga practice? First, it helps connect breath to movement. Often times, we inhale as we lift up and exhale as we lower down. When holding poses, instructors often give the reminder to breathe because when things are difficult, people tend to hold their breath, which actually makes it more challenging. (True story-when I used to figure skate, I went through my programs to find places where I could slow down and breathe. Otherwise, I was so focused on making sure I landed my jumps and did my spins correctly, that I was winded by the end of the program, making it even harder!!). Instructors may also give cues such as, Inhale to lengthen and Exhale to fold a little deeper to help yogis stretch a little further. Breathing is also a great tool for setting and remembering personal mantras, like a self-pep talk (more on mantras in the future as well).

Second, there are scientific benefits to intentionally breathing. Focusing on inhales and exhales sends oxygen to the brain and can help calm the nervous system. As a result, breathing can help reduce stress. When we feel stressed, often our breathing becomes shallow and we naturally go into "flight or fight" mode; by focusing on the breath and calming the nervous system, we can take the time to think before responding. By being aware of our breath during Pranayama practice, we are also more mindful in general. An increase in mindfulness can help us better focus at the task at hand and emotionally regulate.

There are other scientific benefits but reducing stress, mindfulness, and emotional regulation are key goals of kids yoga classes. Teaching children these skills at a young age will give them many years of practice at skills they will need throughout their lives. But they're kids too, so we have to make it fun! How can you make breathing fun, especially when you can't see your own breath?

  • Use breathing balls to show what is going on as we inhale and exhale

  • Move feathers, cotton balls, or other objects around the mat using our breaths

  • Lay down and place a stuffed animal on your belly, feel it move up and down

  • Fun breaths!

    • Rainbow breath-bring your arm up and across your body like you're painting a rainbow in the sky

    • Bee breath-take a breath in and bzzzzzz on the exhale

    • Lions breath-take an inhale and roar on the exhale

    • Candle breath-bring your fingers out in front of you and blow out like birthday candles

    • Flower breath-pretend you're holding a flower, inhale in and smell the flower and exhale like you're blowing on the pedals

There are many more breath choices to do-be creative and create your own!