By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
Well, the title of this article may have caught your eye, and you may be wondering, “Really? Encouraging Breathing? If my Yoga students don’t keep breathing, they will expire before the end of class!” A bit macabre, perhaps, but funny none-the-less. All levity aside, encouraging your students to breath deeply and fully throughout the course of a class is one of the most fundamental aspectsof teaching a Yoga class well. Many accomplished teachers advise practitioners to prioritize deep, diaphragmatic breathing as literally the most essential aspect of an authentic Yoga practice.
If you find that any of your students are breathing in a shallow manner, or they are literally holding their breath while they practice a Yoga posture, backing off the posture a bit so that the breathing becomes more fluid is recommended. Maintaining a fluid-breathing pattern helps to enhance the circulation of life force energy throughout the body. When we hold our breaths, prana, or life force energy, becomes stuck in various areas of the body, which increases muscular tension and negative, circular thinking patterns. On the other hand, when you breathe deeply and completely throughout the course of your Yoga practice, this life force energy can flow more freely throughout the entire body-mind matrix.
The same is true of your Yoga students, of course! One way to encourage deep, diaphragmatic breathing during the course of your classes is to introduce Ujjayi Pranayama to your students. This resonant Ocean Sounding Breath will help to expel toxins, balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, as well as increase their energy level. This pranayama exercise is quite simple, just instruct your students to partially close the back of their throat, as they continue to breathe in deeply and exhale fully. If they are performing Ujjayi Pranayama properly, they will make the whooshing sound of the ocean in a conch shell, as the breath flows in and out over the glottis at the back of the throat.
By continually reminding your students to breath deeply and fully during their practice of the Yoga postures, they will also be less likely to “space out” or become numb when uncomfortable sensations or emotions begin to arise. Many difficult or painful emotions are held in various areas of the body and are manifest as muscular tension and stiffness. When this tension begins to dissolve with each ensuing Yoga posture, the buried emotions, thoughts or experiences will often rise to the surface of a student’s conscious awareness.
A very natural reaction to painful emotions or feelings is to hold the breath and stuff the feelings back down. However, a mindful Yoga practice allows all of us, students and teachers alike, to explore and air out painful emotions and experiences, so that the uncomfortable feelings and memories can be resolved in the light of conscious awareness. By encouraging your students to continue to breath fully throughout the course of their Yoga practice, you will be encouraging them to feel, see and embrace the truth of their perception of their life experiences.
As your Yoga students learn to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and memories, they will be able to consciously work with those feelings and hopefully transform them into pearls of wisdom. Of course, there may be times when a student needs professional psychological support if any of the emotions that arise are too painful or overwhelming for him or her to integrate on the mat. If this is the case, it is advisable to find an appropriate, private time to gently approach your student and recommend that he or she might benefit from some individualized counseling support.
By encouraging your students to continue to breath fully and deeply during a class, you will be fanning the flames of the alchemical process of Yoga. According to biblical scholars, truth can be defined as the self-expression of God. In essence, the very definition of truth flows straight from God. In the context of a Yoga class, the ability of your students to experience their own personal truths, both on and off the mat, will support them in making healthy choices for themselves at every level of their lives. Although being able to hold a challenging asana for several minutes is gratifying; truly speaking, creating and sustaining vibrant good health and well being is one of the most edifying benefits of a regular Yoga practice.
Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: email@example.com.