Friday, June 15, 2012

Take a Deep Breath.

Go ahead. Inhale for 1...2...3...exhale for 3...2...1... Feel better? I thought so.
Believe it or not, this little 6 second pause you take for yourself to simply stop and take a deep breath calms your nervous system, slows your heart rate, changes your mood - maybe even your whole day. Want to take another? Go ahead. It's your special day!
I was told in one of my recent Little Flower Yoga trainings with Jennifer Cohen Harper, that if you teach a child nothing else but how take a deep breath, then you've done enough. 
So true. This week at Alluem Kids, we've been talking about the breath. The breath is a powerful tool and even the youngest of children understand this. Just yesterday a 6 year old told me how she used her breath to calm herself down...
"Miss Karen, one time when I was on the monkey bars, I got really nervous! My hands got sweaty and I thought I would slip right off! But you know what? I stopped for a second and took a deep breath. Then I calmed down and I kept going!" 
I was so proud of her! Even in the midst of trouble and fear, if we can break through and tell ourselves to breathe and relax - we can keep right on going strong! Teach a child this at a young age, then no doubt it will stick with them as they grow. But really, that goes for any age! Recently I got into a discussion with a woman at the studio who finds breathing exercises difficult. She feels as if she's thinking too hard about it and her breath becomes too shallow. I could completely relate! I remember the first time I did alternate nostril breathing - I thought I was going to die! I grew up with exercise induced asthma and it brought me right back to those moments when my breathing became so short that I thought I may never take another deep breath again. I used an inhaler and a nebulizer right up into college during my soccer playing days. It wasn't until my early 20s when I was introduced to yoga, that I stopped using my inhaler. Honestly, I chalk it up something we yogis call Pranayama - the art of breath control.
Prana = Life Force      Yama = Control or Discipline
The more I sat and practiced the breath, the easier it became. And I kid you not when I tell you, there were times during class, when tears would fill my eyes over the anxiety that crept in from not being able to breathe correctly. Maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself. Maybe it was the bronchial spasms that I would experience. What I wanted most was to just breathe and relax! But the more anxious you get over it, the more shallow your breathing becomes. The more shallow your breath becomes the more anxious you get. Really, it's a vicious cycle. 
How do we stop it? Patience. Acceptance. Internal focus. When being introduced to a new breathing exercise, say alternate nostril breathing, first be sure the body is relaxed. When you begin, see how you do with the first round. Close the right nostril, inhale through the left for 1, 2, 3. Close both nostrils, hold for 1,2. Open the right nostril, breathe out for 3, 2, 1. Inhale through the right for 1, 2, 3. Close both, hold 1, 2. Breathe out through the left 3, 2, 1. Pause. How do you feel? If the chest feels tight or you're uncomfortable in anyway, stop. You've done enough for today. Just because the rest of the class continues, doesn't mean you have to! Same as when you practice the asana. Just because your neighbor is binding their seated twist, doesn't mean you have to! When we push ourselves when we're already uncomfortable, that is when the anxiety sets in and the breathing becomes shallow. By that point, Pranayama serves us no purpose. Just like I tell the kids, take it slow. We're in no rush. Come back to it tomorrow and try again.
Also, don't be afraid to let go. Many times we hold on to things that we're afraid to let go of in fear that we may need it at another time. This holds true for the breath as well. Take a deep breath in...hold it. Now let it go. Pause. Can you let it out a little more? Often times we hold onto our breath, especially asthmatics. If you are able to push out more breath at the end of an exhale, you probably aren't using your full lung capacity. Studies show, many of us only use half to two thirds of our lung capacity, depriving the body of oxygen. This is why a regular Pranayama practice becomes essential in taking control of the breath, strengthening the lungs, and possibly, (I'm no doctor) in my personal experience, reversing asthma. So where do you begin? Find your breath. Just notice it. Maybe start by lying on your back. Place your hand on your belly and breathe. With the kids this week, we used our Breathing Buddies. With our favorite stuffed animals sitting on our bellies, we are able to see the breath rise as we fill our bellies and fall when we exhale. It becomes a very meditative, relaxing and fun activity! Try it! Relax! Have fun!
To learn some new breathing exercise (for kids and adults), click here!

To "Deepen Your Practice", visit Alluem Yoga next Sunday, June 24th 1:45-3:45pm for a 2 hour Pranayama Class with Clarissa! Register online - class tab. I'll be there!


  1. Great read! I'm just starting on the possibility of doing Yoga with my daughter and this article is so fun to read and I feel more driven to try yoga with the little girl.

    Been reading as much as I can on Yoga for Kids and now I wish we have the same support and activities on Yoga for kids like there are in the US and UK.

  2. Hi Renz! So glad you enjoyed the article! Where are you from? If you're not finding local classes, there are definitely lots of DVDs out there! Namaste Kid is one of my favorites!