Long ago, I was inspired by a younger yogi when I observed the graceful way she practiced her postures. I could see that a large part of the ease she achieved was because her breathing never seemed to waver.
I think that at that time my poses looked and felt rough, and I would attribute it to the unskillful way I had of breathing.
Like most yoga beginners, I would hold my breath when I was unfamiliar with postures or else my breath would run ragged from trying too hard.
The breath is a delicate thing when we use it to describe the sigh of a breeze, meaning just the faintest whisper.
And, it is a mighty thing when we understand the breath as the sustainer of our lives from the cradle to the grave.
Why should we bother paying attention to something as commonplace as breathing? It’s because the breath intimately interfaces with our emotions and our mind activity. The ancient yogis understood from experiments with breathing that the way we influenced our breathing would change the mood of the mind and its thoughts.
If the breath is irregular or laboured, all we really need to do is to relax. When I remember to relax my diaphragm and my whole body, the breath begins to re-establish itself in a more natural rhythm. It can be as simple as letting go, which can actually be very hard when talking about lifetime patterns. This is where physical yoga can help.
Yoga postures are indispensable in making room for the breath. Props, like bolsters, chairs, blocks, and blankets – all kinds of stuff to lie over – open the thoracic and abdominal cavities to the breath. Stretching, twisting and inverting feel good to the body, and at the same time, they shine a light into all those internal nooks and crannies that may have been ignored for years.
As people grow older, they may suffer the ravages of poor posture, diseases, unresolved injuries, stiffening and swelling of joints, even just the effects of gravity. All these take an enormous toll on breathing. If one’s breathing worsens over time, energy levels drop and thinking becomes dull. And, when one feels less energetic, all of the above problems can be exacerbated.
You know how it works, whether you’re young or old. You’re tired, you don’t want to move, and you become more lethargic – a debilitating cycle.
Here’s a couple of passive poses you could do to open your chest up for better breathing.
Here’s just one bolster as a support for an easy backbend:
And, if you happen to have 15 bolsters, you’ll be in heaven!