(Excerpted from Yoga for Paddling with Anna Levesque)
Breathwork (Pranayama) is one of the eight limbs of yoga. According to yoga, the breath is our life force (prana) and can be manipulated to warm us up, cool us down, stimulate digestion, energize us or induce relaxation. Another benefit of breath control is to bring you to present moment awareness on your yoga practice, and to manage the effects of stress.
Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In her 2013 TED talk, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains how stress cannot simply be labeled as bad. She uses scientific evidence to show that our attitude toward stress is a more potent factor than stress itself in determining whether or not the stress response is harmful to our health. She goes on to say that viewing the stress response as our body’s way of helping us to rise to face a challenge can lead to healthier stress management.
Mindful breathing nourishes our cells with prana, breaks up our thought patterns, and helps us to manage stress. There are many different breath exercises in the yogic tradition, and some of them require years of study and practice under a competent teacher. For the sake of this article, we will focus on the initial steps of simple belly breathing. It is a good starting point to experience effective breathing, stress reduction, and present moment awareness in our yoga practice.
Three-Count Belly Breathing
Let’s start with three-count belly breathing, which helps bring the inhalation and exhalation into balance by making them the same length.
- Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Prop yourself up on some blankets so that you can sit comfortably for several minutes (sitz bones on blankets, feet crossed on the floor).
- Reach back and take the flesh out from under your sitz bones. Press them down into the blanket to lift up through the spine and sit tall.
- Take the front ribs down and expand the back ribs, lifting through the upper spine and out the crown of the head.
- Place your hands on your belly.
- Inhale slowly and deeply as you count one, two, three, feeling the belly bulge out.
- Exhale slowly and completely as you count three, two, one, feeling the belly retract.
- Repeat for five breath cycles, breathing deeply, slowly, and with a steady count. After you’ve done five repetitions, take a moment to notice how you feel in your body and your mind.
To learn more about how yoga and breathwork can improve your paddling and balance your body, check out Anna’s new book Yoga for Paddling. Order through the Mind Body Paddle webstore before December 31st, 2017 for a copy signed by Anna and receive free shipping! Also check out our other holiday specials on kayak and SUP instruction and Ayurveda Wellness Counseling packages. Save up to $100 while giving a meaningful gift this Holiday Season!