In this installment of my Yoga Series, I will demonstrate the benefits of conscious breathing for relieving study-related stress. This is essential because regardless of our biases, we all intrinsically rely on the same nourishing life force, our breath. I am not trying to get all woo-woo on you, okay? I am an academic too! I’ve been teaching academically for two decades now. One part of me spends time analysing data and writing laboratory reports in my science degree. But did I tell you I am also an NLP practitioner and a yoga teacher? An NLP practitioner supports people to explore the psychology behind their behaviour patterns and attitudes to change the way they view their present situation. A yoga teacher supports people to explore how a healthy mind is linked to a healthy body. Using this experience, and my exploration of related theories, I provide a multidimensional collaboration of ideas to my clients. What is Pranayama? So, what is Pranayama and how is it different to simply breathing? There are different opinions on what the Sanskrit translation to English encompasses. What I have found most interesting is the dichotomy between contrasting Western perspectives ranging from ‘breath control’ to ‘breath liberation’. Regardless of opinion, it is about the life force within. It is about how we, as cognitive individuals, can focus on and better utilise the oxygen we breathe. Science focuses on the way breathing provides oxygen as a life force and thus, energy. Yoga focuses on how breathing provides energy as a life force that is disseminated and utilised by our bodies. Scientifically, if the body does not receive the oxygen it needs it will fail. This is also true of the lifeforce that is Pranayama. For someone such as myself who studies methodologies and concepts across genre, both are relevant. And thus, with openness, and acceptance of perspectives, schools of thought can co-exist in harmony with reverence to the same power. It is understood that we breathe somewhere between twelve and fifteen times per minute, equivalent to approximately 20,000 times per day. Yet, how many of these breaths are you actually conscious of? And how many do you follow with gratitude for the power and energy it grants you? When considering who serves who, we find that the heart is in service to the breath. This begs the question are you breathing or being breathed? Whatever your personal perspective on existentialism and anatomy the breath is a powerful tool that we can utilise to create impressive transformations in our physical, emotional, and psychological states. Breathing benefits for students Focusing on the breath lets us tap into self-awareness and self-transformation. Breathing techniques have been utilised for over 4000 years and are not simply for calming and meditative purposes. It aligns with science that increases in oxygen levels assist digestion, lessen anxiety, and support healthy sleep patterns. The benefits are many, and the consequences are numerous. Breathing can be compromised by depression, anxiety, muscular tension, distraction, and lethargy. Our physical, emotional, and psychological health is a delicate balance of intertwined influences. Being aware of how the body’s complex networks function holistically increases both our efficiency and sustainability. Awareness of our breath is a simple step in our quest for both competency and contentment. In Part 1 of this yoga sequence, we explored the physical benefits of yoga. The second crucial element to finding a balance between study and well-being is being aware of the innate life force at your core, regardless of your movement preferences. Whenever we feel rising anxiety, we can consciously slow our breathing and focus only on our breath. In this way we can find our rhythm and breathe past the blockages while waiting for the strictures to relax. Conscious breathing is part of mindful meditation. Often seen as a modern buzzword, this practice has significant historical links with Pranayama, and is supported by focusing on your breath. Through mindful meditation, we ensure our attention is in the here-and-now and ground ourselves into being present in the present moment. A great method for calming those examination anxieties!
Part 2: Breathing
Becoming aware of your breath.
- Close your eyes and simply become aware of your breath with curiosity and non-judgment.
- As you inhale take note of what this feels like. Where do you feel it most? What process do you feel unfolding? What parts of your body can you feel moving? Is it smooth? Does it change pace?
- As you reach a full breath how long do you pause? Where do you feel the breath most?
- Imagine its dispersal throughout your body. How does your breath make your mind and body feel? What changes occur?
- Now breathe out and notice where this transition begins. Is it smooth? Does it change pace? What can you notice moving? How does it make you feel? Have you exhaled as much as you initially inhaled?
- And now you are empty of breath. Do you instantly reach for more? What do you feel? How long do you remain empty? Where do you feel the lack of breath? Does it change?
Now, experiment with a breathing technique called 4-7-8 breathing which is based on more complex roots of Pranayama.
- Find a comfortable position with a straight back and close your eyes.
- Ready yourself by letting out a long audible exhale.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply into your belly (diaphragmatic breathing) to the count of 4. Counting not only helps you remember where you are in your practice, but it also helps to still your mind.
- Once your lungs are full, hold your breath and count to 7.
- Slowly exhale to a count of 8.
Remember that if you have been accustomed to shallow breathing (symptomatic of stress and anxiety), it may take some time to find a rhythm and that’s okay. Take your time moving into deep breathing. This may take days, weeks, or even months of practice.
We have now covered stretching and breathing! Both are very basic, I know, but the most important things in life generally are. Yet more complex questions abound. Part 3 of my yoga series will build on these foundations by answering more complex questions. I will explain how to evolve these basics into our pranayama practice and link them to physical practice—delving into energy blockages (or chakras) to explain how we can stimulate knowledge, determination, and energy. This third area is fundamental to a holistic practice that can aid study habits and our social and personal health by maximising our innate potential and protect our wellbeing.