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I took my first yoga class while I was at university in Edinburgh. It was 2008 and I was looking for a form of exercise where I believed my whole body would benefit in a safe way. I wanted to leave feeling strong and stretched and avoid the imbalances that often come from other sports and anyway, competitive sport doesn’t come naturally to me (I am already competitive enough with myself…). My first class was challenging and I swiftly fell in love with the blissful relaxation that follows a full body workout.
It seems rather obvious to me now but I was surprised at how much yoga made me think of my breath and how I could utilise it to my advantage. A typical class might start with a breathing exercise (or pranayama) and throughout the whole class you are cued to ‘inhale, lift your right leg…exhale, fold forward…’. This awareness of the breath helps you to focus your mind but also helps bring a sense of energy if you are in a particularly challenging pose or a sense of deep relaxation as you slow and deepen the breath. The use of breath does not need to be restricted to yoga classes. Here are three breathing exercises from yoga that you can use for deep relaxation, to lower your heart rate and to help with stress:
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
This is my favourite pranayama exercise. You might feel awkward doing this breath (I had many a laugh on my yoga teacher training doing impressions of this breath) but once you get into the swing of it, you will reap the benefits. In Yogic Philosophy it is said that we breathe cool, moon and yin energy through our left nostril and hot, sun, yang energy through our right nostril. Philosophy aside, here are the instructions:
Dirga Pranayama (3 Part Belly Breath)
Brahmari Pranayama (Bumblebee Breath)
Lovingly named because of the sound you make, this soft breath mimics the sound of humming or the bumblebee.