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  • Sandy Branch, ACSM CPT

If you can breathe, you can do yoga

"Don’t I have to be flexible?” This is a question that I hear often as a yoga instructor. People that need yoga the most don’t darken the door of a yoga studio because they don’t think they are flexible enough. Believe me, I know. I have never been flexible and probably never will be. It’s just the way God made me. My non-bendy friends rejoice, I have great news for you! Yoga is not all about being flexible. A great deal of a yoga practice is about the breath- how you breathe, where you breathe, and the pattern of breathing. It’s a wonderful part of yoga practice.

According to research each breath stimulates millions of sensory receptors in the respiratory system. Those sensory receptors send signals through the vagus nerve to the medulla oblongata in the brain. Fast breathing will stimulate the brain at a faster rate which triggers the sympathetic nervous system into the “fight or flight” response. This response is what triggers our stress hormones, turns up our heart rate, increases blood pressure, muscle tension, and amps up anxiety. On the flip side, slowing down your breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system into the “rest and digest” response. This is the response that brings all those stressors down. It calms and relaxes us, reduces stress, lowers our heart rate and blood pressure and allows mental clarity.

During yoga practice, the breath is used exclusively during pranayama (prah-nuh-YAH-ma). Pranayama is a term referring to the awareness of your breath and the ability to control it for purpose. There are many breathing techniques found in yoga. It may not feel natural at first but the more you practice the more you will improve and the more you will reap the benefits of it.

Now back to the “I’m not flexible” response. My friends, please don’t let that discourage you.

There are many ways to modify or substitute poses during a yoga practice. Yoga blocks, straps, blankets and chairs are wonderful props to allow practitioners to ease into a pose without overexerting themselves. I am not at all flexible so I use props all the time. I can tell you by incorporating a regular yoga practice into my life, my running has improved, I have less injury, and I am less stressed. Grab your mat and gift yourself some yoga


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