Yoga: Meditation and Breathing
Most people think of yoga as poses and exercises that make the body more flexible and strong. But what many don’t know is that meditation and breathing are important parts of yoga.
Want to manage your anger so you don’t feel you’re always on the verge of blowing up? Want to feel less stressed and juggle all the things going on in your life? Need to focus better in class or while you do your homework? Yoga poses can help. But meditation and breathing really round out those benefits.
Meditation and Visualization
Meditation is a way to get quiet, calm, and focused. It trains your mind to slow down, relax, and stay positive. Meditating for just a few minutes a day can help you feel centered, balanced, and more in control — even during the times when you’re not actually meditating.
Making meditation one of your daily routines (like brushing your teeth) can help you feel more grounded when it seems like you’re being pulled in a million directions.
Here are some meditation exercises to try:
Focus on the Breath
Try this as soon as you get home from school:
- Close your door, set a timer for 3-5 minutes, and find a comfortable place to sit.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
- As you inhale, think about your lungs inflating, your ribs expanding, and the breath moving through your nasal passages.
- As you exhale, think about your lungs deflating and the breath rushing out of your nasal passages.
- If your mind starts to wander, calmly say to yourself “thinking” and then turn your attention back to your breath.
This is a great thing to do when you feel stressed about something that’s coming up like a big test, sports game, or performance:
- Set a timer for 3-5 minutes. Find a comfortable place to sit.
- Close your eyes and picture things going well.
- Visualize yourself feeling prepared and in control as you sit down for your test, or kicking the winning goal in soccer, or landing the lead role at your drama audition.
Visualization doesn’t take the place of actual preparation. But it can help you feel confident and manage the negative thinking that sometimes goes with stress.
Breathing is one of the most important parts of yoga. Breathing steadily while you’re in a yoga pose can help you get the most from the pose. But practicing breathing exercises when you’re not doing yoga poses can be good for you, too.
It may seem strange to practice breathing, since we do it naturally every moment of our lives. But when people get stressed, their breathing often becomes shallower and more rapid.
Paying attention to how you are breathing can help you notice how you’re feeling — it can give you a clue that you’re stressed even when you don’t realize it. So start by noticing how you’re breathing, then focus on slowing down and breathing more deeply.
Try practicing these breathing exercises:
Belly breathing allows you to focus on filling your lungs fully. It’s a great way to counteract shallow, stressed-out breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position with one hand on your belly.
- With your mouth closed and your jaw relaxed, inhale through your nose. As you inhale, allow your belly to expand. Imagine the lower part of your lungs filling up first, then the rest of your lungs inflating.
- As you slowly exhale, imagine the air emptying from your lungs, and allow the belly to flatten.
- Do this 3-5 times.
This kind of breathing can help settle your nerves before a big test, sports game, or even before bed.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This breath technique can help you feel more balanced and calm:
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Place the thumb of your right hand on your right nostril. Tuck your first and middle fingers down and out of the way.
- As your right thumb gently closes your right nostril, slowly exhale through your left nostril, as you count to 5.
- Now, keeping your right thumb on the right nostril, slowly inhale through the left nostril, as you count to 5.
- Lift your thumb, use your ring finger to close your left nostril, and exhale through your right nostril for 5 counts. Then inhale through your right nostril as you slowly count to 5.
- Change back to putting your thumb over your right nostril. Lift your ring finger from your left nostril, and repeat the whole process — exhaling through your left nostril for 5 counts, then inhaling through the left nostril for 5 counts.
- Continue this pattern (exhale, inhale, change sides) for three more cycles.
These breathing and meditation techniques can have subtle but powerful effects. If you keep practicing them, the benefits will build up into real results. This might happen so gradually that you don’t notice it. But you’ll know that a positive change is at work when you don’t lose your cool during a fight with your parents or go into a stress meltdown before a big exam!
Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD