Breathing away anxiety

As I mentioned yesterday, I took twelve pages of notes during Max Strom’s Inner Axis class at the Dubuque Yoga Festival.  He shared a TON of great information, a lot of it centered around how to breath properly and how breathing properly can have a huge impact on a person’s state of mind.

To begin with, he shared some very alarming statistics.  He said that 1 in 4 American women and 1 in 5 American men takes anti-anxiety meds or anti-depressants.  He also said that suicide has overtaken car accidents as the #1 cause of injury death.  He didn’t provide us with these statistics to depress us. He provided them to show that we are safe to assume that at least 1/2 of our yoga classes are filled with people who are not sleeping, have anxiety, are depressed, or have lower back issues.  He advised us to take this into consideration when  designing a class. A good goal for a class is to incorporate asanas and practices (such as deep breathing) that will help students sleep better and that will reduce anxiety.

This approach really resonated with me. I think many people come to yoga with the hope of getting a better boot-tay.  And depending on what type of yoga class you attend, you probably will get a better body, but I want to teach the kind of class where the yoga butt is just a serendipitous side-effect of the class. I want to teach a class that teaches people how to decompress and get centered and calm the fuck down.  (Sorry for the language, Mom!)

Max taught us a different way of breathing – chest breathing, he calls it.  Place your hands on the sides of your lower ribs.  As you inhale, focus on expanding your chest in all directions.  As you do so, you will feel your stomach and core tighten.  Hold your breath for a few moments, then as you exhale, pull your belly button toward your spine.  Max says this way of breathing helps you physically and emotionally (it helps oxegenate the blood), and it also keeps your core engaged 100% of the time, so you always have its support while moving through asanas (which will help protect your lumbar).

Why do you have to put your hands on your ribs?  Max says that wherever you put your hands on the body, it will move!  This cues your body to move where you want it to or how you want it to.  I find it’s difficult to get my chest to expand without doing this. I think that eventually your muscle memory will get used to it, and you will no longer need to touch your ribs to get them to move the right way.

Let me give a disclaimer – I just learned this on Friday!  I bought A Life Worth Breathing at the festival and plan to read that as soon as I am done with How Yoga Works. As with all teaching, take what resonates with you and research what works and doesn’t work. I plan to incorporate this into my practice.  I teach my first Community Class on Wednesday, and I think I’m going to start with a couple of minutes of this kind of breathing.  We will see how it goes!

Well, that’s enough for this morning.   Thank you for reading!  Let me know if you’ve read either of Max’s books or if you’ve attended his workshops. What do you think?  What has worked well for you?

I hope you have a positive, happy day!

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