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Using mindful breathing

Updated: May 25, 2019

Part 3 in the “Getting started with Yin” series

I’m going to break some rules here. Paul Grilley’s book says it doesn’t matter how you breathe when you are in a yin position, just breathe normally. Paul is the founder of yin yoga so he knows.

But breathing is a very personal thing. Our breath is one of our autonomic body processes -like the beating of the heart or passage of food through our digestive tract - we don’t need to actually think about breathing consciously for it to happen, our body just does it 24hrs a day every day. But breathing is special because we do have the ability to control how we breathe just by thinking about it, in way we can’t easily with say our heartbeat or our digestion. So we have a choice.

In yoga there are thousands of different ways to control or manipulate changes to the breath - I’m told there are many more variations of breathing techniques than there are yoga poses. Anyone who has done yoga is probably familiar with ujayi breath for example and how that is used to extend the exhale and support a flow practice, or how samavritti, the even extended exhale and inhale, can be used to help you relax by stimulating the parasympathetic system. In Yin yoga we can practice being mindful of our breathing in the same way that we are mindful of our physical sensations or emotions.  After all we will have 2-5 minutes in a series static supported poses in a yin class, so there is plenty of time to explore different types mindfulness.

In any style of yoga the breath can  be used to carry you through the practice and yin doesn’t have to be different in this respect. - Feeling stressed and tense? focusing on a steady elongated in and out breath will help you relax into the pose.

- A joint feeling sore or tight? breathing into gentle discomfort will help bring acceptance and can loosen restrictions over time  - Finding it hard to stay focussed? Guiding your attention back to the movement of the breath and using a mantra to guide your inhale and exhale will help calm a busy mind

- Feeling overwhelmed or fed up with the length of time you have been staying in one position? Try visualising the breath moving up and down the spine to cultivate acceptance of your emotions and patience. 

I have to admit that as a vinyasa flow trained teacher I really enjoy the feeling of moving with the breath - your inhale or exhale guiding your transition from one posture to the next. So how do I reconcile that love of movement with a mainly static yoga practice?  Through focussing mindfully on the flowing of my breath of course. 

I recommend you try it out - get yourself into a supported yoga pose and then let go of thinking about what that position is supposed to be doing, what you think it should be feeling like or how you think you should be looking in it, and just breathe...

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