Welcome to our first blog where we will dive into a topic related to the practice of yoga! Today specifically, you will be reading about breath (Pranayama) and its powerful impact on our bodies as well as our minds.
We believe yoga is a missing link for athletes today in their busy schedules for many reasons, such as stress relief and calming down the nervous system. That begs the question: what is yoga? Why does it matter how we choose to breathe throughout our yoga practice? If you take a moment to think about it, breathing is something we do every second of our lives on this earth, but its automatic so we don’t pay much attention to it. How we breathe is not only important when we do yoga, or in our sports, but also every moment of our lives. There are actually many forms of traditional yoga breathing but today we are going to zone in on Ujjayi breath, which is very rhythmic in nature.
Ujjayi (ooh-JAI-yee) breath is a form of diaphragmatic breathing that you can use through your entire yoga practice. It is also available to you anytime you are able to pause for a few moments and tune into your body. When yoga gets physically and/or mentally overwhelming during your asana practice (the poses) you have the opportunity to amplify your breath by focusing on the quality of your inhales and exhales. This commitment to your breath helps slow your heart-rate down and enables you to remain physically present in your body.
Ujjayi breathing begins with sealing your lips and taking an intentional inhale through your nose for a slow count up to five, then pausing at the top and exhaling for another count of five. On your exhale you want to imagine you are trying to fog up a mirror by creating a constriction at the back of your throat. This also helps make your breath audible, almost sounding like “Darth Vader” from Star Wars. Since breathing on a day to day basis is controlled by our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), it happens without any effort. But by deliberately choosing to focus on how we inhale and exhale, we can tune into our Parasympathetic and Sympathetic nervous systems which increases feelings of calmness and ease.
Furthermore, some physical benefits of Ujjayi breath include but are not limited to tension release in your muscles, improved oxygen circulation in your body, increased heat in the body which prepares you for physical movement, increased awareness and concentration, and more. On an emotional level, Ujjayi breathing offers you the opportunity to recognize that you can tune into your breath anywhere in your life and pause before you react in challenging situations. Then you can consciously choose how you will respond because you have allowed space between a stimulus and your response. That is powerful! As an athlete, you can use this form of breath-work when you are in a match or game and need to calm down your nerves before a penalty shot, or even after your long day of training when you need to re-connect and wind down before you rest.
Set aside 5 minutes of your day to practice Ujjayi breathing, whether in yoga poses or simply sitting in meditation with your eyes closed. Then we want your feedback! How does your commitment to breath take you Beyond the Game?