Yoga Bliss Gambia: The Power of Breath

Do you ever bring your awareness to your breathing in your daily life? Our respiration is usually an involuntary, automatic, unconscious mechanism, but with awareness we can voluntarily change our breath. We can control the pattern and pace of our breath by regulating the mechanics of our breathing consciously. Respiration is an essence of life, it is such an integral mechanism that affects our health, yet many of us neglect its importance. You can understand the connection of our respiration with our physical body as whole as we recognise the changes in the breath and the resulting physical changes.
In yoga we practice ‘controlled breathing’ known as Pranayama. From an anatomical aspect it is a way we control the pattern, pace and deepness of our breath by being conscious of the working of the body parts involved in breathing. But in yoga Pranayama is also referring to vital energy or life force that exists in our body. So if you can imagine the connection of breathing with our energies and the body, it is easier to understand how the breath can affect so much of our health. Through our mind, with conscious breathing exercises we are able to regulate and condition our energy and our body, and in its process it stimulates our mental state.
The following are some benefits of practising regular breathing exercises.
  • Calms the mind, reducing worries and anxieties
  • Improves focus and attention, removing brain fog
  • Increases energy, bringing enthusiasm and positivity
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Rejuvenates the body and mind
There are many Pranayama exercises in yoga, but if you are new to this, it is quite essential to start with observing your natural breathing followed by practicing abdominal breathing.

Natural breathing

Start by sitting is a comfortable position, or alternatively lie down on your back and relax your body. Bring your awareness to your breathing, inhaling and exhaling only through the nose. Observe the rhythm and the depth of your natural breathing. Be aware of the movement in your chest and stomach as your inhale and exhale. Then bring your awareness to the whole breathing process from the air entering your nostrils, expansion of the chest and abdomen as the lungs are filled and in its reverse process. Hold your awareness for some time to your breathing.

Abdominal breathing

Abdominal breathing enhances the action of the diaphragm, which is the muscle that is essential in the respiration mechanics. It is a sheet shaped muscle that separates the lungs from the abdominal cavity. Abdominal breathing is the most natural and efficient, but due to poor posture or tension it’s often compromised. So by practising abdominal breathing and the correct breathing is restored you should also see an improvement in your mental and physical wellbeing.
Photo Credit: shutterstock.com
While lying on your back in a relaxed position bring your right hand to your stomach just above your bellybutton, and your left hand onto the centre of your chest. Inhale through your nose and allow your breath to fill the lungs as you expand your stomach. You should feel your right hand being pushed up by your stomach, while keeping minimal movement in the chest. As you exhale through your nose you should feel your stomach lower down back towards the spine. Try to take smooth even breaths. Keeping your awareness with your breath, continue initially for 10 rounds.
Now that you are more aware of your breathing, I would like to introduce an exercise known as alternate nostril breathing or Nadi shodhana.
Photo Credit: yogateket.com
Nadi Shodhana is known to bring calmness and centers the mind by bringing harmony to the left and right sides of the brain. The word Nadi refers to energy channels that run vertically in intersecting lines along the spine. The left nostril associates with Ida channel that represents mental energy, the right nostril associates with the Pingala channel that represents physical energy and body. So by practicing alternate nostril breathing daily can improve your overall well-being.

Start by sitting in a comfortable cross legged sitting position, if you’re not able to sit on the ground you can sit on a chair with your feet touching flat on the ground and your spine and head upright. Hold out your right hand, fold the index and middle finger down. The thumb will be placed on the right nostril and the ring finger will be used for the left nostril. These two digits will be controlling the flow of breath alternately by pressing on one nostril, blocking the flow of breath, and then the other.

Alternate nostril breathing mudra and position
Photo Credit: steemkr.com
Closing the eyes bring your awareness to your breath and perform some abdominal breathing. Start the alternate nostril breathing by blocking the right nostril with the thumb, and inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the ring finger, and release the pressure of the thumb on the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril. Continue by inhaling through the right nostril, then block the right nostril with the thumb, exhaling through the left nostril once you release the pressure of your ring finger from the left nostril. This is counted as one round.
Once you are comfortable with this process, begin to introduce mental counts to help you equalise the breath. The breath you take should be deep but without any strain. Take 4 counts as you inhale, 4 counts as you exhale. Practice alternate nostril breathing for 10 rounds initially.

As you practice these breathing exercises always make sure you are not straining. With practice you may want to gradually increase (usually by one count) the length of the breath, or increase the number of repetitions. The breath should be deep but comfortable. The breathing exercises can bring you immediate effect to calm and refresh the mind, but it is also highly recommended that you practice these daily to see further improvement in overall well-being.

About Author

Melissa Kuwahata Daswani

Founder, Yoga Bliss Gambia and Yoga Bliss Creations
Melissa Daswani is a professional yoga teacher trained and accredited in Hatha Yoga from Rishikesh, India. She was introduced to yoga in the early adolesce by her mother who often practised yoga at their home and still continues to practice to date.

Melissa started to indulge in yoga with a keen interest in her 20’s after researching the benefits of practising yoga.

In order to expand her knowledge and practice, she initially enrolled on official training in India during 2009. Her initial stint in yoga teaching began in 2012 in Togo, followed by expanding in the Gambia from 2016. Melissa’s style of teaching incorporates the fundamental and crucial steps of yoga called Hatha yoga, which encompasses the basis of all other styles of yoga. Melissa believes that every individual has something to gain from Yoga which is not limited to mental, physical or spiritual.

Yoga is not a religion but more a spiritual exercise as well as a practice that can universally be incorporated into your daily routine. Melissa offers regular weekly classes in Fajara, the Gambia, which is open to all levels.

She also runs a weekly beach yoga class which is very refreshing and energizing.

It’s her love and dedication towards teaching which allows her the opportunity to share the essence of yoga and its benefits to people from all walks of life.

Whether you reside in the Gambia or a visitor in The Gambia, Yoga Bliss Gambia would love to welcome you to their next class.
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