Your Yoga Practice: Breathing Techniques Are Underrated

Have you ever felt anxious? Tense? Jittery? Off? Frustrated?

Something lingering just below the surface? Gone from zero to sixty in a split second? Can’t really catch your breath? Racing heartbeat? It just won’t go away!

It happens far more times than we think. You’ve been told many times before to just breathe. And yet, even that doesn’t seem to help.

Allow me to share a recent event in my life from a few weeks back.

A Personal Experience: On High Alert

All 4 fire alarms on the second floor of the house were sounding off at the same time. Talk about a heightened nervous system—frantically running around trying to figure out what was going on.

Is the house on fire? Where? Can I smell smoke? Can I make these things quiet? Where are the replacement batteries? How do I open the battery cover on the alarm?

Nothing is easy when your system is on high alert. Even the simplest things are hard.

After about 20 minutes of futility and skyrocketing panic, I told Eileen, “Something isn’t right and we need to get out.” That was just as difficult as dealing with the fire alarms, and only served to increase my anxiety and tension levels.

What do we take out of the house? Where’s the cat? What’s the number to the fire department? Why is 911 taking so long to answer?

Finally, we found our cat, got outside, and waited for the fire department. Once they arrived and checked the entire house, they concluded there was no smoke and no fire. Whew!!

The captain quieted the alarms by turning one breaker off at a time until he found the circuit. One hour!!

The electrician came by around three that afternoon, replacing the old alarm devices with 10-year smoke alarms that require no electrical connection.

But it wasn’t over yet...

It’s understandable that once we were allowed back in, I was shaky while making phone calls to either cancel or schedule appointments for the day.

What caught me off guard was, about an hour later, Eileen began to prepare herself a smoothie. I had wandered into the kitchen when she turned on the blender... and I came out of my skin! I was right back in the alarm frenzy looking to get out of the house.  

I thought it had been over. After all, I’d gone back to my normal routine. Obviously not!

I had to sit down and breathe. Not just my normal everyday breathing, mind you. But closing my eyes and truly focusing on the breathing technique—the inhale and the exhale. Getting that full body breath experience. Giving my brain a chance to override the fight-or-flight sensation and calming the nerves to take back control.

It was hard! After about 20 minutes, I felt calm enough to continue my day.

Incidents like this always get your system stirred up. They happen on occasion, but are more the exception than the rule.

It’s the daily activities of your life that have the greatest impact on your overall well-being. Whether it’s interacting with your partner, at work, driving, preparing a meal, on a walk, etc. You are somehow affected. Though, most times you don’t even know you’ve been affected. Then, without notice, it’s out and won’t go away.

Breathing Techniques for Everyday Situations

In yoga, we use our breath and various breathing techniques to help us through the practice. Many of us come to yoga to help reduce that daily stress that I’ve indicated with my story. We feel tense when we arrive and somewhat relaxed when we leave.

Why not use these same breathing techniques you’ve learned during yoga class in your home and work lives? It can be difficult to spare 15-20 minutes by yourself, but you may be able to find 5 minutes where you can sit and quietly focus on your breath.

Deep breathing technique:

  • If you are able, lay or sit quietly, allowing your eyes to soften or close.

  • Gather your thoughts to your inhale and exhale.

  • See if you can follow your breath from start to finish.

  • Then after 5-6 complete cycles, see if you can begin to lengthen the inhale and extend the exhale still following your breath.

  • As your breathing deepens, imagine the entire body filling, sending air to all areas, rising and falling.

  • Repeat for as long as you can or would like.

As you begin to come back to your normal breath, notice if there are any differences between before you started and now. If there are, make a conscious effort to see if you can hold onto the changes as new opportunities await.

A few points to keep in mind when practicing breathing techniques:

  • Breathing is a full body experience. Get as deep and as big a breath as you are able.

  • The more reclined you are, the greater chance of deeper release.

  • It takes about 15-20 minutes for the body to switch off and begin to release tension. But don’t deny yourself, take what is available.

  • You can do this as many times a day as you need and would like.

The next time you find yourself out of sorts, give this a try. Experiment. See what works and what doesn’t. Take care of yourself.

Namaste.

YogaDavid Ashby