Just Breathe Some More by Julie Hunt-Juneau

Published in Senior Living Magazine, November 2016, p. 26


As discussed in last month’s “Just Breathe” article, the conscious and controlled breath is an integral part of the Yoga practice.  Prana (life force) is the Sanskrit term for the breath, and Yama means control.[1] Yes, our body will breathe for us in times of need, from the subconscious natural “reptilian” breath, to yawning when we need the breath for energy, and sighing to exhale more fully in times of stress.  Singing and laughing are great stress relievers because of the complete exhale.

The Complete Breath in Yoga, also known as the centering breath, involves slow, deep, steady breaths through the nostrils, our natural filters, temperature regulators, and breath regulators.  The use of slow and conscious breathing balances the nervous system and initiates the relaxation response.  To consciously connect with your breath, try:   1) counting; 2) giving the breath color to visualize it traveling through the body; 3) bringing the tongue to the roof of the mouth for the entire length of the inhale, and relaxing it away for the entire length of the exhale; or               4) thinking of the pace of your pulse rate.  The challenge for some is the complete exhale.  So, if you are counting to control the breath, count a little higher on each exhale.

The Complete Breath practice involves deep diaphragmatic breathing used by singers and musicians, and not the shallow chest breathing we unconsciously use throughout the day.  So, when your friend tells you to “Just Breathe” in times of stress, begin the following practice:

  • Find a comfortable reclining position,[2] perhaps using support under the knees and/or a small pillow to rest the head. Lower the chin slightly toward the chest to open the back of the throat and to allow the chin to rest lower than the forehead.
  • Inhale slowly through the nostrils to fill the belly with breath. The belly rises to the sky.  Exhale slowly, letting the belly fall to the spine, or squeezing the belly to the spine.
  • Inhale, the belly slowly rises – then let the breath travel to the rib cage, filling the front, sides, back of the body with air. Exhale slowly in reverse direction, allowing the belly to fall to the spine.
  • Inhale, the belly slowly rises, the rib cage expands – then let the breath travel up to the back of the throat, lifting the collar bone, filling the entire torso with air. Inhale a few more short bursts of air; imagine the breath coming out of the top of your head.  Pause[3]
  • Exhale in reverse direction, as slowly and controlled as the inhale, letting the belly fall to the spine, exhaling a few more short bursts; imagine the breath coming out of the bottoms of your feet. Pause.
  • Repeat the last two instructions, continuing the Complete Breath at your own pace, thinking about each segment of the body touched by the breath for the entire length of each inhale and exhale.

During this breathing exercise, bring your attention to the nostrils.  Notice the breath is cool as it enters the nostrils, and warmed by the body as you exhale.  Take a mental scan of the body to focus on any areas of tightness or tension.  Let the breath travel to those areas on each inhale, and release all tightness and tension to the earth on each exhale.  Enjoy the control you have over the breath, and where you bring it into the body.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”  (Amit Ray)

Julie Hunt-Juneau, RYT 200
Yoga By Water
Bayou Bonfouca, Slidell, LA


[1] Pranayama is the Sanskrit term for the controlled breath.  Pranayama is also the name of a free App – download it for more information and to customize timed breathing for your personal practice.

[2] You will find it much easier to connect with your breath when lying on the back.  Once you master the centering breath, you will find the ability to connect with the breath in a seated or standing position as well.

[3]   The Pause (for count of 4 or higher) is resting the diaphragm.  Do not strain to hold the breath.  Imagine your face in a bowl of water  – you are just not breathing.

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