AIDS Ribbon

Breathing for Reduced Stress

By Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D.

B.K.S. Iyengar teaches the following technique, which is elegant in its simplicity yet extremely effective.

Step 1: Inhale normally.
Step 2: Exhale normally.
Step 3: Pause.
Repeat steps 1, 2, and 3.

At the end of each exhalation, pause for a second or two before inhaling again. You may notice a spontaneous, unforced continuation of the exhalation during this pause. This additional release of breath completes a true normal exhalation, according to B.K.S. Iyengar.

In our habitual way of breathing, exhalation is incomplete. We start each inhalation without allowing the previous exhalation to come to its natural conclusion. Iyengar explains that this incomplete exhalation provides "the soil, or base, for thought to arise." The mind jumps from one thought to another. "The second thought arises before the first thought is ended," just as the inhalation begins before the exhalation is completed. If exhalation is allowed to conclude spontaneously and naturally, the mind does not have a chance to become agitated.

With this way of breathing, the "wandering mind is brought to a state of stability by observing inhalation and exhalation as a complete cycle . . . . If you know this secret, there will be no stress and strain, no anxiety at all," Iyengar says.

(Personal communication with B.K.S. Iyengar, Pune, India, February 1987)

Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D. is the author of Back Care Basics: A Doctor's Gentle Yoga Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief (Rodmell Press, Berkeley, Calif.; 800/841-3123).

(Copyright © 1987 by Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D. This article first appeared in Yoga Journal, July/August, 1987. It is reproduced on The Yoga Group's Web site with permission from the author and from Yoga Journal (2054 University Ave., #600, Berkeley, CA 94704; 510/841-9200). All rights reserved.)

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