Just breathe

As a quiet observer in the office elevator this morning, I watched as this tall man breathed heavily, breaking the stillness with his audible inhalations and exhalations. Before I could think “oh awkward, does he know how loud he actually is”, I interrupted my own thoughts and wondered if perhaps being able to hear another person’s breathing should be considered normal.

How many of us suffer from shallow breathing?

Are we aware of the way we suppress our inhales and exhales to avoid emitting too much noise as it is “inappropriate”? Or by practising the “sucked-in belly” so as not to show our bulging tummies? Add to that stress and long hours hunching over a desk or electronic device, what happens? We become shallow chest or thoracic breathers.

When we breathe in a shallow way, the body remains in a cyclical state of stress—our stress causing shallow breathing and our shallow breathing causing stress.

Source: https://www.headspace.com/blog/2017/08/15/shallow-breathing-whole-body/

By contrast during yoga classes, we are encouraged to breeeeathe (teacher goes “I can’t hear your breathing!”) and not hold your breath even in uncomfortable poses.

I never really appreciated the breathing cues during yoga classes until I attempted to practise Surya Namaskar together with the corresponding inhales and exhales. What started as a tedious memorization test slowly revealed itself as being quite logical once I’ve gotten used to it. We see this in a forward bend – you exhale, contracting the abdomen and hence making space for a deeper stretch. It also acts as a pacer for me in group classes as I try to align my breathing with someone of similar respiratory rhythm.

As we have learnt, breathing is both involuntary and voluntary but intentional deep breathing provides massive benefits to us physically and mentally. There is an extensive discussion available online with numerous studies on the advantages of pranayama but for now, I would just like to share 4 things I have started to do in my humble attempt to try to reap some of the benefits:

  1. During the morning commute to work, I spend a short 3-5 minutes just focusing on abdominal breathing, counting each inhalation and exhalation as I go along. In just a week, I have found myself being able to increase in the length of each breath and it feels good to start the day with a clear mind.
  2. I tend to tense up at work and often catch myself holding my breath or taking in little sips of air when I’m stressed. Being conscious of my breath throughout the day allows me to remind myself to breathe properly. Many of us also wear a smart watch/device set at hourly intervals to remind us to stand up or move around. Whenever I get such an alert on my watch, I take the opportunity to do a quick check on my breathing as well.
  3. For those who are sensitive to environmental allergens, I have found that Anulom Vilom can very quickly clear a stuffy nose. While it doesn’t provide an instant remedy for the tightened chest and constricted airways, Anulom Vilom does help to diminish the anxiety as the discomfort gradually fades away.
  4. Before bedtime, I wind down by doing several rounds of Anulom Vilom in the hope of a calm mind and a good night’s rest.

Back to my thought this morning, since societal norms dictate that breathing loudly can be rather awkward, one can be really discreet while practising Anulom Vilom as compared to the other types of pranayama (well, that is if you don’t have a blocked nostril!), so this is definitely my go-to. Try to incorporate this into your daily life!

The First Time – My Yoga Experience Thus Far

The first time I stepped into a yoga class was almost 15 years ago when my mom suggested we go for a trial session together. I recall that it was a hot yoga class and boy, was that tough! I am not a natural athlete and had zero flexibility – I struggled to touch my toes for most of my life. Yoga had presented itself as a challenge and I was ready to take it on! While I gained strength and flexibility over the years attending group classes, I had no understanding of each pose and only viewed yoga as a form of exercise. As time went by and life got busy, I gradually stopped attending yoga classes and ventured into other types of physical exercise.

The first time I got injured doing yoga. It was during the time when I was trying to teach myself inversions at home. I fell and fell and fell over. But till today, I’m not sure what exactly happened for me to end up with a broken pinky finger and a broken toe over the span of about 2 months. Looking back, I now recognise that pushing myself to my limits and beyond is not the right way. It didn’t take long for me to come right back into yoga but the experience had given me more fear and less confidence. I’m still working on overcoming my fears but for now, I’m focusing on the journey and not just the result.

And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, “What if you fly?”

– Erin Hanson

The first time I went for an Ashtanga class was after I first heard of “Ashtanga”. A girlfriend of mine shared how she enjoyed Ashtanga Mysore classes and that piqued my curiosity. Earlier this year, I went for my first Ashtanga class and it was rather intimidating seeing how I was the only beginner there. I ended up turning to yoga videos and followed along with teachers online. After getting a hang of the sequence, I started attending the Ashtanga classes at Tirisula and thankfully, there was more guidance this time round. The practice remains to me a mystery I hope to slowly unravel.

The first time I ever considered signing up for YTT. Yoga has benefited me in many ways, from the simple fact that I can now touch my toes (!!!) to the precious me-time it gives me for self-care and reflection. Working long hours stuck at a desk, I found that doing 2-3 sun salutations back at home helps provide relief for the stiff shoulders and back. While I had been “practising yoga”, there was always this nagging thought that made me wonder if I was doing it right. I thought maybe going for a course would help me understand proper alignment and how to avoid injuries. I might even be able to guide and properly adjust my loved ones for them to reap the same benefits.

The first time I took a leap of faith and signed up for YTT. So here I am, at the start of my journey. First 2 weekends done and dusted, another 8 more to go. It has been a truly humbling experience so far. My body is weary but mind is revelling in the thrill of anticipation of what else is to come.

Just to share something I’ve experienced: On the morning of the second day of YTT, this long-time migraine sufferer was dismayed to feel the onset of a migraine attack but after a session of Kapalabathi (Skull Shining Breath) and Murchha (Breath Retention), much to my amazement, my head felt clear and there was no more pain!

Can’t wait to learn more!