Last Tuesday was the first session of the 8 week course where the catch phrase is
“Bringing the Breath Down into the Abdomen”
After the introductions and welcome there was a reminder to students that they are invited to bring their whole selves into the course .. there is no need to leave out those parts of us that we sometimes like to leave behind, keep hidden and pretend do not exist! Every part of every one is welcome onto the course. The idea is that we learn to create a bigger container within ourselves – one that is able to include and embrace our whole self.
The focus of the week was bringing the breath down, breathing into the abdomen and elongating the breath, allowing the exhale to be longer than the inhale. If we learn to notice our breath we can find out a lot about ourselves and how we react to different emotions, situations and stress.
Research has indicated that changing the breath by breathing into the belly and making the exhale longer than the inhale can help to calm the sympathetic nervous system (fight and flight) and invite activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and the Relaxation Response http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Relaxation-Response-Herbert-Benson/dp/0380006766
Our brain cannot tell the difference between stress in the body – through running fast, for example – or stress of the mind – through worrying about work, for example. Therefore if we can practice various forms of regulation such as altering the breath, we can train ourselves to use these practices to reduce all stress in our lives and build resilience, strengthen our hearts and reduce blood pressure. We can also help ourselves to get a better night’s sleep!
The Ujjayi breath – or Victorious breath, breath of the Ocean – is taught in Week 1 and this, through making a slight restriction in the throat, slows the breath down and helps it to move to the belly. It also helps stop rumination of the mind and gives it an anchor to focus on. Over time, through practice, this breath can have the most profound effect on our central nervous system.
For a U-tube tutorial to guide you to learn the Ujjayi breath practice see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCIczg_IZWo
In addition to the psychoeducation linked to the breath, Ujjayi and stress response, in this first week of the course there is also just over an hour of yoga practice. During each posture there is a reminder to bring the breath down, elongate the exhale and use the Ujjayi breath … by doing this the student can regulate their response to stress.
Homework involves reading the manual, some yoga practice and several minutes of Ujjayi breath practice per day.