by Zelaikha Noviello
I first discovered yoga 20 years ago when I was 18 years old and needed to take a physical education class to fill a college requirement. It was hatha yoga taught by a Zen priest, Aikido sensei who would spend several days in meditation. He taught us how to breathe, a practice which I never really connected with yoga. It was then that I experienced how yoga and yoga breathing naturally leads us to fully inhabit our body and come into the present moment. I found the experience terrifying, to be honest. The breathing exercises were very challenging for me. Inhaling counting from 1, 2, 3, I could barely reach 4. I was so often in panic mode that my breathing pattern was shallow except when I would simply hold my breath bracing myself, especially in social situations.
As much as I struggled to slow down and elongate my breathing, I noticed that the exercises nonetheless helped calm me down a bit. I began to practice breathing on my own now and then, inhaling, taking years to increase the count from 1 to 5 and 1 to 8. Today I can breath up to a count of 15-20 slow seconds and find it provides instant relaxation. According to yogic philosophy, proper breathing can enhance and balance the energy body. From a science perspective it makes sense as well. With each breath we are breathing life and nourishing every cell in our body.
Sarah Powers, an expert on yin yoga describes yoga as a “set of practices that moves us out of comfort zones in our bodies and minds, engendering the possibility of broadening our capacity for connection and inclusion.” I teach people how to breath because I found it the most empowering experience when I struggled to gain control over my social anxiety. According to a study at Harvard Medical School, proper breathing techniques can lead to:
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Lower/stabilized blood pressure
- Increased energy levels
- Muscle relaxation
- Decreased feelings of stress and overwhelm
At St Joseph’s Hospice I have the privilege to work with brave people, many facing great physical and emotional pain, and anxiety. I have found that the basics have always worked best for me, and so I always start and end with the breath.