By Deb Fraine, MS, OTR/L, CHT, RYT-200, Co-Director of the NB Well Yoga Program

Spring is a wonderful time to take a full breath, to fully enjoy the freshness of the air and the fragrance of the blooms. As we anticipate the onset of the spring outdoor yoga season, one of the most important benefits of yoga comes to mind. This aspect or “limb” of yoga – the breath or “pranayama” can be practiced anywhere. No yoga mat is needed.

Many of us have become accustomed to breathing very shallowly in our upper chest especially in times of stress. This shallow breathing can contribute to anxiety, fatigue, muscle weakness and high blood pressure. In yoga, we teach our students to breathe through the nose which produces a more efficient breath. We teach that with the inhalation, the ribs and belly expand and with exhalation the ribs lower and the belly draws into the spine. In times of stress, it is customary for us to “hold our breath.” Yoga teaches us that breathing through the difficult postures or challenges in life actually helps us to get through them with more ease and peace of mind.

The anatomy of breathing includes the lungs, rib cage, abdomen and diaphragm which work together to move air in and out of our lungs. The diaphragm is a dome like muscle that divides the thoracic and abdominal cavity. When we inhale the diaphragm contracts, the ribs expand and the lungs fill. When we exhale the diaphragm lowers the rib cage and air is forced out of the lungs. This deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which connects our brains to our bodies producing a relaxation response.

To practice this technique of deep breathing, place one hand on your upper chest and one hand on your belly. As you inhale through the nose, notice your chest lift and belly expand. As you exhale through the nose, notice the chest lower and abdomen contract. This practice can be done in a chair or lying on your back. In order to produce a deeper relaxation response, you can make the exhales twice as long as your inhales. (Inhale for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 4).

This method of breathing produces a sense of relaxation and well-being. As it becomes more natural, you will find yourself breathing in this way throughout your yoga practice and your daily activities.

The onset of spring gives us a sense of renewal and hope as well as an opportunity to be outside and connect to each other. The New Bedford Wellness Initiative looks forward to bringing you free yoga classes in Buttonwood Park on Monday evenings and at Haskell Public Garden on Thursday evenings. Both classes will begin in early June and will be held at 5:30 p.m. Stay tuned to the NB Well Facebook page and newsletter for further information.