“Think of your body as a musical instrument, a wind instrument. Your breath, accordingly, is the wind through the instrument. As such, it is the single most important aspect of yoga technique. Traditionally considered the primary carrier of prana – life force – your breathing originates deep inside you, radiates outward and then inward, providing a gentle and steady rhythm for movement, stretch and release. Sometimes you will breathe softly, other times with vigor, but the breathing itself will always be a central and governing focus. Proper breathing brings the poses to life, inspires every subtle shift and movement in every yoga posture, and can help center your awareness in your conscious experience of the now.” – Erich Shiffman, Moving Into Stillness
Focusing on your breath anchors your awareness in the moment and in your body. Practicing Yoga is a process of refining your sense of self-awareness, and the first step is to observe the breath. In order to maintain focus on the breath we practice ujjayi (ooh-JAI-yee) breathing. Also known as “victorious breath” it is characterized by an audibly hollow, deep, soft sound coming from a gentle contraction in your throat. Ideally you should maintain smooth, even ujjayi breathing throughout the entire practice.
Use the breath to calm the mind as well as open and steady the body. What ever happens in the mind influences the breath. Stress and tension cause the breath rate to increase, peace and calm slow the breath rate. The opposite is also true, slowing the breath rate will bring peace and calm to the mind. As the mind calms, the body will follow, tight muscles will soften and supporting muscles will become more steady.
Breath and postures should be synchronized and complimentary. All movement should be initiated by breath, making your practice a fluid meditation. Over time you will become skillful at this and breath and movement will become inseparably entwined. Certain movements are done on the inhale and others on the exhale. In general forward folding and twisting are initiated by exhale. Exhaling deeply will also deepen the forward fold or twist. Lengthening the spine and back bending are initiated by inhales, and like wise deep inhaling will aid in opening the spine and front body.
If you’re not breathing your not doing Yoga. If your breathing is strained it means you need to adjust the posture to allow for breath, or take a moment to calm your mind.
Suryanamaskar Surya in Sanskrit means sun, and namaskar means a salutation, “namaste” comes from the same root. Suryanamaskars, or Sun Salutations, are a key element in asana practice for warming the body and establishing breath movement synchronization.