Yoga starts with your first intentional, conscious breath.
Most classes begin and end with sitting, lying, or standing comfortably and becoming aware of your breath. Feel your breath as it enters your nostrils and swirls in the back of your throat. Watch it move into your chest, your diaphragm, and your belly. Then watch it flow out again. Listen to your breath as it comes and goes, smooth and steady, consistent as an ocean wave.
When you begin to move, the breath leads the body. Every movement begins with a breath in or a breath out. Every asana is measured by the breaths you spend with it. Your breath guides you through transitions and into deeper variations.
Your breath warms the body when it is cold and stiff. It cues the release physical discomfort and mental tension. It directs energy to areas of resistance, and supports each shape in your practice.
When the breath is steady, the body can also be steady. If you feel unstable, notice your breath first. Is it uneven, ragged, or quick? Return to a place where you can breathe easy, free, and deep, then observe the body again. Do you feel more centered? Is your practice more grounded?
Best of all, you can practice yoga anywhere simply by breathing. Bring your awareness to your breath. Pause to notice its speed, depth and quality. Then begin to guide the breath, inhaling to a count of four and exhaling to a count of four. Feel yourself relax and soften. Continue breathing evenly, or begin to lengthen the exhale to a count of six to eight. Feel your mind grow quiet and your thoughts slow down. Count ten breaths in and ten breaths out.
This simple exercise helps bring your attention back to the present moment, away from anxiety about the future or worries about the past. It centers you within yourself and helps calm the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. The next time you feel anxious, stressed, or rushed, return to the breath. Even on our busiest day, we have time for a few minutes of conscious breathing.