In yoga practice, the breath is of the utmost importance. For every movement, there is a corresponding inhale or exhale. Usually, as you are moving into a pose, you inhale, and as you move out of a pose, you exhale. While you are holding a pose, you continue to breathe. No holding the breath! So often we see weight lifters, as they get ready to lift a huge weight, take a deep breath in, and then hold their breath as they are lifting and holding the weight! There is a big explosive exhale as the weight is lowered down.
Holding the act of holding the breath and exerting is called the Valsalva Maneuver. During this state, you create an air ball in your abdominal region by forcing air against your closed windpipe. This is actually a survival response that stabilizes the body to prevent injury under CERTAIN circumstances. It is a technique that should only be used for a few seconds. Otherwise it can result in a myriad of short term and long term repercussions, such as:
- Glaucoma: Intraocular Pressure (eye pressure) increases significantly during the Valsalva Maneuver as compared to a breathing while exerting.
- Headaches/Migraines: Abrupt blood pressure changes in the head, as a result of using the Valsalva Maneuver can induce this condition.
- Ruptured Blood Vessels: Sustaining the Valsalva Maneuver can lead to blown vessels virtually anywhere, but the eyes and forehead are very susceptible.
- Fainting: This circumstance would arise when not enough oxygen flows through the body and to the brain.
Yoga tells us that breath is life. Through yoga, we discover our body’s abilities and it’s challenges. We explore what we are capable of, as well as where we want to take our practice of yoga. Using our breath, we become capable of more than we may have imagined.
Bringing our attention to the physical act of breathing helps us to disengage from the constant chatter of the mind. As we inhale breathing feeds our cells, tissues, muscles and joints with oxygen. As we exhale we release toxins from those same places.
We hold tension in various parts of the body. The neck and shoulders are two of the more lucrative hiding places for tension. Think of that shrug of the shoulders when you don’t know the answer – and the stress that thought might harbour.
Your hips are another prime location of interest to stress and tension. We sit, walk, and stand, with so much of our body weight being transferred to our hips. Your glutes can become tight and just try to take a deep breath with a tight butt!
The other harbinger of stress and tension is the jaw. You might surprise yourself if you start to notice how many times in a day you clench your jaw! And if there is tension in your hips – this will often transfer to the jaw.
You can consciously relax areas of tension that you find by using diaphragmatic breathing—that deep belly breathing—to focus on inhaling into the tension, and exhaling to let it go. So next time you are holding a pose—Pigeon Pose, let’s say—focus on in haling into the hip where you feel tension, then exhale to let that tension go! It is a visualization technique for sure, but “electromyograph studies have shown that tension increases slightly in all the muscles in the body each time you breathe in, and reduces slightly each time you breathe out.” Focusing your attention on, and bringing your breath to, the muscles you wish to ease, can bring a greater release to that particular area.
Next week, I will look at some different Pranayama (Breathing) Techniques that can be incorporated into your yoga practice.
Stretch Therapy. Breathing. Overcome Neck & Back Pain, 4th edition
(first edition published 1995). https://stretchtherapy.net/breathing/ (06/12/2019)