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Yoga Therapy: Why I Do Breath Work

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

Blog for April 2023 MSW
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Dear friends, welcome to my blogpost.

My training as a yoga instructor and in Yoga Therapy began from the Kripalu lineage, where

breath practice or pranayama, was considered as important if not more, than the postures, or

asanas were.

If we use not a top-down, nor a bottom- up approach, as is such popular lingo these days, we then can turn to an inside-out model, or to say another way, from source to form, as a place to start.

Healthy breath practice is not a skill we’re usually taught correctly, but it is one we were born

with, and even though we come into the world with a perfect breath patterning, we are quickly socialized , and “shaped”out of it. ( Fear works quite well too).

Every new and modern day that we live, coaxes us to distrust our body, our senses, and instead intellectualize the whole life experience. To be mistrustful of all the symptoms, senses, to insist upon measuring it scientifically before going down the rabbit hole of endless data verifications to question or disprove the obvious.

Breathing is that wonderful thing that, as Tom Myers said, “lies on the cusp of voluntary and

involuntary; (i.e.) if you pay attention to it, you can change it; if you don’t it will change based

upon your physiological needs…”

So much of the breathing techniques were taught from experience, by the “masters” if you will, of mindfulness and meditation, using breathing techniques to enhance both..It was handed down orally, to the devotee, and practices were often intense and consistent. If you want to change your mind, change your breath patterns. Back then, we didn’t demand scientific data to verify what was going on, either chemically, biomechanically or otherwise. We just felt differently and usually for the better ,and that was proof enough of its efficacy.

But we DO now have data, and breath work practices are EVERYWHERE!

The Importance of Pranayama in Yoga Therapy:

One of the things we get to learn as we move from novice perhaps to seasoned practitioners is that the beauty, the certain transformation comes from the subtlety. The knowledge that

consistent, gently, light, slow, deep practices ( LSD, to quote Patrick McKeown) with breath

retentions may prove to be the most effective, esp for us householders who don’t ( can’t) isolate for months in a cave to renounce society and all obligations to anyone but self to figure this stuff out. But that said, the more vigorous Tummo, or Wim Hot methods have their place too, in a gateway to transformation. Like medicine, breath work should be prescriptive to the individual, not to the masses, as each person’s constitution is different, as are their life experiences.

From a scientific perspective, much of the transformative effect of conscious manipulation of the breath is us getting used to handling a greater load of CO2, which ironically helps pull more oxygen off the hemoglobin, or red blood cells into the rest of our trillions of little body cells. (They need nourishment too). It’s tidbits such as these that distinguish Yoga Therapy from Yoga.

To not breathe well is to deny ourselves health and vitality, and from a microscopic and global level, leads to DIS- EASE… as starving the body becomes first physiological stress, which of course, can’t help but become psychological stress, and eventually illness.

Like your favorite balancing posture in a yoga class, the breath offers us additionally balance for all the systems, not just our musculoskeletal selves. Be it lymphatic, circulatory, nervous, or digestive, when we breathe well, to quote a favorite term of flight controllers affirming to the astronauts, “All Systems Are Go” ! But there is a skill set we must learn to make habit, and cultivate, and that is, surprise ya’ll, you can’t do this work and think! Read the end of that last sentence again..You can’t do this work and think! ( Yep, not a typo….)

And to your credit, when learning something new, yes we do have to understand what we’re

being asked to do, and use talking and listening to get there. But like riding a bike, once you

learn it, you really can’t ( and shouldn’t…, and don’t ) think about it and do it very well…

I hope in the coming weeks ahead I hope you’ll tune in consistently to learn specifically more

about techniques, starting from learning to access permission in your body, to expand, to feel, to relax, to allow more awareness of where in your body your breathing patterns reside, and how they affect your nervous system, be it sympathetic, or parasympathetic tuning that we need on a given day, hour, or moment.

A Breath Practice For You To Try Now:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

  • Place your hands on your abdomen, with fingers slightly interlaced, around the area of the navel.

  • Relax your elbows by your sides on the floor. Relax your shoulders and face too!

  • Breathe in, and feel your fingers on the left and right hands separate slightly separate.

  • Breathe out, and notice them come together again.

  • Continue and try to make the movement increase without undue force to make it happen.

  • Repeat this exercise for 5 minutes.

  • Simply notice how it feels (how YOU feel)

See you all again in May~ Reach out to me if you’re ready to start your yoga therapy journey!

Jeffrey Shoaf,

Certified Yoga Therapist, Yoga Educator, Bodyworker,

& Student of Human Nature

Yoga Therapy Charlotte

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