Take a Deep Breath and Exhale, by Melissa Perehudoff
The antidote to stress is relaxation. So we just need to take a deep breath and relax. Does this seem easier said than done? You are not alone. The speed of events in modern life, environmental conditions and personal tensions, have all increased our daily stress. The slower pace and deep breathing in a restorative yoga class interrupt the effects of the regular fight, flight or freeze stress response. Yoga asanas or postures maintain the smooth functioning and health of all the body’s systems. They relax the body and mind allowing both to recover from fatigue or weakness and the stress of daily life. Asanas improve blood flow to all the cells of the body, revitalizing and strengthening the nerve cells (1). In a restorative yoga class we learn to use the breath as a bridge to relax the body and the mind since really they cannot be separated.
In a restorative yoga class we use the props to put the body in a supportive position to relax and open. Then we place our attention on the breath to use inhalations to overcome fatigue and exhalations to release tension. Yogic methods of relaxation have a profound effect on all the body systems. As we learn to relax on a deeper level blood pressure and stress hormones drop and your heart rate, breathing and brain waves slow down. Rapid, shallow breathing becomes deep and slow. This allows a higher intake of oxygen so that the body recuperates and removes stress from the mind-body. We experience a wonderful feeling of calm and well-being allowing us to truly rest and relax in the present moment without drifting to the past through memory or to the future through plans (2). To bring breath awareness into your daily life, you can take five soft, slow inhalations and exhalations before entering a Zoom meeting, sitting down to eat or putting on your jacket. Inhale and exhale through your nose.
Breathing in through your nose filters and humidifies the air as it enters your body. Breathing out through your nose lengthens the exhalation and helps balance the nervous system. Nasal breathing helps us to take fuller, deeper breaths which distribute greater amounts of oxygen throughout your body increasing energy and vitality. It increases nitric oxide which regulates blood pressure and boosts the immune system. Nasal breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve sending a message to your body that it’s time to relax and destress.
According to medical research, regularly quieting your mind-body may help you sleep better and reduce your anxiety. It can also have therapeutic effects on your heart, immune, digestive and hormonal systems. Although yogic methods of deep relaxation may seem like magic they are based on balancing your sympathetic (activating) and parasympathetic (quieting) nervous systems. All it takes is time and space and attention to relax well and breathe with ease. The guidance of an Iyengar yoga teacher can support your journey to rest, renew and exhale deeply.
1 BKS Iyengar, Yoga, the Path to Holistic Health. 2001, p. 20
2 Ohad Nachtomy & Eyal Shifroni, The Psycho-Physical Lab Yoga Practice and the Mind-Body Problem. 2019, p.189
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