Using breath as healing and centering device did not always come naturally to me. It took a long time, in fact, for me to weave mindful breathing throughout my practice -- not merely exhaling into kicks, blocks and punches, but finding the rhythm and flow throughout the dance arts as well.
Now I end every class with a bit of focused inhalation and exhalation to help coax myself and students more deeply into relaxation and FloorPlay and to return to center before stepping out. More than this, however, I'm a huge proponent of maintaining that practice throughout the day. It's one of the easiest means of remaining fully embodied in each moment, and bringing ease to each action.
And breath is central to mind-body wellness, playing a key role in centering our emotions and calming spirit. Yoga masters and martial artists have long touted the importance of mindful breathing. But as of 2018, thanks to researchers at Trinity College Dublin, we now have scientific data that explains the neurophysiological link between cognition and breath.
Every inhalation and exhalation directly affects the levels of noradrenaline, a natural chemical messenger in the brain released when we are challenged, curious, focused or emotionally aroused. It's brain food. So when we set our Focus and Intent at the start of each Nia class, that begins the process of teasing forth more of that lovely brain food. Once we step in, warm up and get moving, breath helps to keep producing that noradrenaline enabling the brain grow new connections.
So in the same way that exploring a routine through movement challenges our neural mapping, being mindful about the way we breathe through each moment and positively shift the chemistry of our brains. Breath increases one's ability to focus on sensation, augmenting positive emotions along the way in addition to decreasing emotional reactivity.
Another way of putting it is, if I feel energized and uplifted after class, that's not simply due the music, movement and magic. How I breathe plays a role in that sensation.
So through each class, when an instructor invites you to pay attention to a sensation -- to a body part, or a feeling -- start with your breath.
Even long after you've stepped out of class set a few minutes aside for yourself to breathe in, fully and deeply, and release.
If you want more, consider building a practice. Click here to read exercises created by Dr. Andrew Weil.
The brain and body will thank you for it!