Most people rarely think about their own breathing, even though the average person takes around 22,000 breaths each day! However, breathing mindfully can have a major positive impact on your mood and your health. Your body and organs need proper oxygen intake in order to function. In fact, oxygen is even more important than food. The body can go without food for thirty days or more and without oxygen for only four minutes.
Right now I’d like you to try something. Lie on your back and let your body relax into the floor. Note any tension that may be in your body and breath into it. With each breath, imagine yourself getting more and more relaxed. Now take a nice deep breath, filling your lungs, diaphragm, and belly, and hold it to a count of four. Now let your breath completely out. How do you feel?
For years now, I have been practicing yoga as a type of relationship therapy for myself and others, and to promote self healing. I find the practice helpful when I need a break as it helps energize me and improves my mood. If you just do three postures for 10 minutes, you will be set to go. Yoga has also helped me relax. I consider yoga an active meditation that calms me down when I am stressed. I love how it makes me feel and how it has kept me young over the years. During my hour-long yoga class, I reap the benefits of improved energy and strength. It is a super place to make new connections, and social connections are another way to improve your mood. Overall Yoga helps you manage your emotions more effectively and is a good self esteem booster.
The breath is even more important than the postures when practicing yoga. When I do yoga, I breathe in deeply through my nose into my lungs, diaphragm, and lower belly. It is important to breathe in and out through the nose rather than the mouth. Your lungs are pear-shaped, and there is great capacity at the bottom of the triangle. You want to breathe in coming up and breathe out going down as you do the various postures. Practice holding the breath in (to the count of four) for an extra surge of energy. Right now you can stand up, slowly bend over and drop your arms toward the floor. You can breath into your belly several times as you are folded forward to elicit the relaxation response. After you hold this posture for a few minutes or longer, slowly push yourself back up. This posture is also used in Bioenergetics which was developed to help people with depression. This exercise helps ground you.
How You Breathe Affects How You Feel
Your physical body and your breath are closely connected. How you breathe directly affects how you feel. I think good breathers have a deeper relationship with themselves.
When you are upset, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This system is also known as the fight-or-flight response. Your body thinks you are in danger, and you tense up. This was an important bodily system when your ancestors were fighting off real dangers like predators, but in today’s society, you may be easily stressed by factors that may be upsetting but that are not really that dangerous, like a fight with your partner. When this happens, your breathing gets shallow and quick. In yoga, you practice deepening and lengthening your breath, so that when you do start to feel stressed or upset, you will be able to stay calm. Next, let’s take a look at how yoga can help in couples counseling.
Yoga Can Help With Relation Therapy
I often recommend that people in relationship counseling take a time out when they are beginning to get angry or reactive and do some stretching or yoga postures. Real anger is self-defeating; it dissipates energies and causes internal explosions that are energy-zapping. Mindfully breathing deeply is the first thing that is taught in anger management training. Focusing on your breath helps to dissipate the anger and calm your nervous system. Another way you can channel your anger is to get something done from your to-do list. Yet another option is to do 10 minutes of yoga to calm your energy. Your mood will definitely improve if you are productive, breathing deeply, and moving your body!
Another benefit of doing yoga when you are angry is that it allows for quiet. Silence is one of the principles of yoga and something that we need in our noisy culture. More and more we are hearing about the toxic effects of noise. I tell my clients in couples counseling to make time for quiet, especially if they’re upset. When you’re practicing yoga, you take a break from the commotion of life. At the end of a series of postures you may want to visualize yourself feeling calm, confident, and collected and then continuing on.
Yoga & Breath Work For Beginners
Yoga can provide a reserve of mental and physical energy for those who make the commitment over time. Additionally, it will help firm you up and enable you to get stronger. Some yoga enthusiasts spend an hour a day deep breathing into their postures and meditating. However, if you start with a few minutes in each posture that will be a great way to form a new habit. If you are a beginner, start with two or three postures and you only need to spend five to ten minutes daily the first month. Gradually, you will naturally want to add on another five minutes or more. I recommend you create a new yoga habit by doing it in the morning when you drink you favorite cup of coffee, tea, or smoothie.
I highly recommend taking a group class as it is fun to be part of a group and social contact helps those of us with mood challenges. Lots of people in California are members of yoga studios which are often less expensive than a gym membership. Another option is to take a Zoom class or make use of YouTube. I have noticed men and women in my class are youthful and have bodies that are firmly toned. There are others who are not happy with their weight and are doing something about it. Like my dad always said to me, “Don’t just sit around and stew about it. Get up and get busy!”
Challenge Yourself to 90 Days
If you are new to yoga, I challenge you to commit to it for about three months. Focus on your breath during that time, without worrying if you are still a beginner with the postures. The breath work is more important than the physical poses. The more you oxygenate your glands and your muscles, the better you feel and the healthier you become. You are certain to reduce any symptoms of anxiety and depression. You will find that certain yoga asanas make it easy to oxygenate certain parts of your body. A good exercise is lay down on your back with your legs up a wall, with your butt right next to the wall. Then just practice deep breathing. This is a great exercise for mental health.
After you complete the 90-day challenge, you can decide how you want to move forward. I have found you can experience benefits in about a week but to really get the transformation effect, you want to cultivate the breathing skills and give yourself the gift of time. Trust me, you will not be sorry!
Here’s another breathing exercise for you to try. It’s called 4-7-8 breathing. What you’re going to do is close your mouth and inhale through your nose for four counts. Then hold your breath for a count of seven. Finally, exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight. You can repeat this cycle several times in a row to calm you down during the day. Just doing this is a fantastic form of relationship therapy for you!
You stay elastic by breathing through the nose as you do the various yoga postures. Yoga over the years had helped with sleep as my breathing is fuller. I relax more easily from pranayama. Yoga has also made me a happier, more confident and calmer person. The more you stretch, the better you breathe, and the better you breathe, the better you feel!