Yoga for Mental Well-Being Series: The Power of Breath

Taking care of our mental health is more important now than it ever was. Depression and anxiety show up in many different ways, and in ways we maybe wouldn’t expect such as chronic pain and inflammation, anger and frustration or indifference. The complexity and continuous unknowing of our current life experience, places an increased strain on us and in return our relationships. This constant toggle from okay to not okay, and sometimes many times throughout the day impacts our mental well-being. But we can take our power back, and implementing a daily self-care regiment using Yoga for mental well-being is key to taking control.

Yoga for Mental Well-Being: The Power of Breath
Photograph by: Laura Pedersen

Pranayama, or breath-based practices are one of the fastest ways we can shift energy in our body. From a natural or self-governing perspective, and without the use of outside interference (such as drugs or alcohol) nothing else hits us faster. The best news, it’s always available and it’s completely free. Our ability to manipulate our breath is the only actual control we have over our autonomic nervous system which regulates our sympathetic nervous system – fight or flight and our parasympathetic nervous system – rest and digest. It is within this system that we can begin to have power over our mental health. This is not to say in any means that Yoga breath work can or should take the place of medical professionals, not at all. What I am saying, is a daily breath practice can help us harmonize our nervous system and help maintain the feeling of balance within.

So how do we start? As simple as pausing right now and noticing our breath. Where in our body do we feel our breath right now? Do we feel it more in our chest or our belly? Are we breathing from our mouth or our nose? Is our breath fluid, inhales followed by exhales or are we holding our breath? Is our breath full or shallow? In general, we on average use about 10-15% of our entire lung capacity when we breathe. By starting simply with a Yoga based 3-part breath we already begin to maximize this capacity, release stagnant air from our lungs and re-energize our body by bringing oxygenating our cells. To practice 3-part breath, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and begin to breathe in and out through your nose. As we inhale deeply filling up our lungs, pressure is placed on our diaphragm forcing our belly to expand outwards. On the exhale, we contract our belly and the pressure from our diaphragm moving upwards squeezes our lungs, we then repeat – breathing in feeling our chest, rib cage and belly expand, exhaling contracting into our belly, ribcage and finally softening into our chest before repeating again.

This breath can be practiced at any point in the day when we are looking to clear our head, find focus or reconnect back to our self. I highly recommend practicing this breath in the morning before starting our day. Use the timer on your phone and set it for 5, working your way up to 10 minutes. If the beginning if you aren’t used to full breaths such as this, you feel a bit light-headed so please take a break if you do. The key is to feel your breath full but with little effort. The breath shouldn’t be forced but smooth. Another option here would be small equal sips of breath in and out so that the breath feels more even and regulated. Practicing 3-part breath every day is an empowering practice for your mental well-being, leaving you feeling centered, calm and connected. Start right now!

Also, check out this other article I wrote: Yoga Breathing for Anxiety

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Join me for my upcoming course: Yoga for Mental Well-Being. This is a 4-hr live virtual course on Saturday, January 30, 2021 10am – 2pm EST. There is also an online course, Yoga for Mental Well-Being: Creating a Daily Practice you can access now. Together, let’s take ownership of our mental health.

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