The Power of Breath, Guest Post by Joanne Varni

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Joanne is a Yoga Alliance Certified ERYT500 and completed her certifications through Jennifer Prugh’s JOY of Yoga teacher trainings. She is a certified Trauma Sensitive Yoga teacher having received her certification through TSY under the renowned guidance of Bessel van der Kolk. Her Yoga Therapeutics certification was completed with Cheri Clampett and Arturo Peal and she completed the Core Application Course with Liz Koch, a leading psoas muscle expert.  She is also a Level II TRE Practitioner. Her current public teaching schedule focuses on Wellness, Restorative, and Core, Release and Restore (Inspired by TRE) classes.  She teaches yoga at the VA in Menlo Park and Palo Alto and at the Center for Survivors of Torture. She also has taught voluntarily to women at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas.

I begin every class inviting people to notice their breath. Many teachers do this as well, but because I work with audiences who have stress, anxiety, PTSD, and depression, among other things, the breath, and how it affects our emotional well being is one of the essential components that I always invite people come back to. I also want to give students an opportunity to notice how their body feels when they are completely at ease, which is what I attempt to establish in the beginning of class when we do grounding and breath work, so that they can pay attention to sensations that invoke a sense of peacefulness, to use as a sensation baseline, as this is something tangible that can be a take away when they leave class. Getting people to relax and ground themselves can take awhile and there have been times when we start the class with a full 15 minutes of just breath work. What’s tricky about this is the fact that the breath can actually be anxiety provoking for certain people depending on their life experience, especially as we begin to move it around the body where we may change the direction of, or limit, breath flow. For example, during a twist, the breath becomes limited as we reduce the amount of space that the breath can flow into. So it’s important to notice with each movement how the body responds not just from the movement, but also noticing subtle sensations and emotional responses as it concerns our breathing as well. And because many people have extreme difficulty with focusing on the breath all together, noticing these subtle changes are often missed.

What I recommend to students is to commit to noticing the breath as much as possible, not just during yoga class, but also throughout the day. If someone’s mind is extremely busy, then I invite them to lengthen the inhale or exhale which gives the mind something to do and notice. I suggest setting their iPhone alarm, or purchase an application that reminds them to breathe. Or something even better might be to notice how the breath changes as you experience your day (this can be something reflected upon at the end of the day as well, when people can recall the incidents of their day, and recall how there body felt at that time, because as you remember something it is likely you will be able to feel the physical and emotional reaction just by thinking about it). If we develop a pattern of noticing the breath, we can become more aware of those subtle changes as we move about our day and this will allow us to shift our breathing to a pattern that serves us and helps the body relax. Then over time, those sensations and that baseline we create in class can invoke a sense of peacefulness that becomes the new normal, which is extremely empowering.

How is your body feeling? Are you reacting?   Are you stressed? Do you have anxiety at this moment? Notice your breath. Your breath will tell you every time.

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