I learned how to do deep breathing about thirty years ago while watching the PBS program, “Lilias, Yoga, and You.” This half-hour yoga class was taught by the sweet-spirited Lilias Folan and featured the expected lotus, fish, and shoulder stands familiar to anyone who’s explored this form of exercise. The thing that has stuck with me down through the years, however, has been the breathing and relaxation techniques she taught. I still use these methods when I need to relax, such as when I have to get a blood test or can’t sleep. Here are some tips for getting started.
1. Sit in a relaxed pose, either on the floor or in a chair. Focus on your breath for a few moments as you breathe normally.
2. Now inhale through the nose to a slow count of four. Envision your lungs filling up from your belly to your collarbones. At the top of the breath, pause a split second before exhaling to a count of four. Let the air out from the collarbone back down to the belly, and squeeze the abs a bit to make sure it is all out. (If this is easy for you, you can extend the exhale to the count of six or even eight.)
3. Now take a moment to pay attention to how that breath made you feel.
When breathing deeply for relaxation, the technique of paying attention to how you feel is all important. Look for pockets of tension in your muscles. Places where tension settles can be anywhere, but the shoulders are of course a common place. If you sense tension here, make a conscious effort to let those shoulders drop. Pay attention to the muscles of your face and tell them to relax as well.
Lilias used to teach us to breathe in energy and breathe out tension. Then she would talk us through a wonderful sequence of progressive relaxation, starting with the feet and working muscle by muscle up the body. Learning to do this can make getting to sleep easier. It can also help a person be able to tell when they are tensing up somewhere in the body. Progressive relaxation is also used in self-hypnosis.
I never got into thinking of yoga as anything more than physical exercise, but the stretches do make you feel great. However, I feel knowing how to breathe and relax is a skill that has served me well for many years, and I urge everyone to learn it.
Folan, Lilias. Lilias! Yoga Gets Better with Age
Allman, Brian. Self-Hypnosis; The Complete Manual For Health And Self-Change
Barbara Wood is a writer and educator living in the Missouri Ozarks.