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Yoga and Breathing for Relaxation …and Your Skin!

by Lisa on February 13, 2012

I’m officially a yoga instructor now. Who wants to come over and do yoga?

I’m not planning on actually teaching on a schedule in a studio anywhere, but I have plans for how to integrate yoga into what I already do and I like the idea of doing small group sessions in a series.

I also like the idea of combining yoga and food…how can I do that?

One thing I’ve noticed about myself since I began doing yoga regularly about 5 years ago is that I can have a significant impact on how I feel when I breathe a certain way. This helps me when I’m anxious, especially.

I wrote about Soft Belly breathing when I completed training in Mind-Body Skills last October, and I often have people email me about it (not to mention, “how to get a soft belly” is a search term that leads people to that post daily…however, I’m not sure how relevant that is!). When I facilitate mind-body skills groups (which are generally weekly meetings with 6-8 people for 8 weeks, where I teach about and we practice all kinds of mind-body skills), we always open with a short five-minute soft-belly breathing exercise.

Sometimes it lulls me into a daze …and then I have to pull myself back together so I can make sure the participants get their money’s worth :-)

The science behind deep belly breathing is straightforward—when we breathe into our bellies, we stimulate the Vagus nerve (I wrote about that once too). The Vagus nerve sends a message to the brain to relax. It’s a great easy thing to practice, and I like to describe it to people as relaxing from the inside-out, instead of trying to rely on the environment around us to cause relaxation (that’s just too variable to depend on!).

Since breathing is automatic and involuntary, it’s going to happen whether we think about doing it or not…but we do have significant control over the way we breathe. This week, since I’m focusing on yoga and my sauna everyday (only two days so far), I have the space and time to really focus on breathing deeply.

Today was especially good. Monday is a very busy day for me–Most online classes end on Sunday night (although a couple end on Tuesday night), so Monday is the start of new units and a day full of grading and giving feedback so students can use it to make improvements in the new week. When I get a certain amount of work done on a Monday, I tend to relax naturally and the pressure/intensity of my To Do List dissipates. Lately, I’ve been having a hard time turning off the work—I just keep working until bedtime on Mondays. Today, though, I took a yoga/sauna break in the middle of the day and then had a meeting with my yoga teacher (about my certification) after that. I took full advantage of the yoga flow to breathe deeply, and then I focused on it again while in the sauna (although I daydreamed a bit too).

It’s amazing how awesome I felt afterward!

And now, I’m just relaxing, eating half-done pizza kale chips out of the dehydrator, and thinking about when I can fit yoga/sauna in tomorrow.

Side note: I just read an article about skin health and stress—and one of the less obvious ways to make your skin clear, glowing, and vibrant, is to do yoga. It’s a natural chiropractor, and when the spine is not aligned it affects everything from digestion to organ function (and this affects your skin and detoxification pathways!). Not to mention, if you’re less stressed through yoga and breathing, you have less of the stress hormones circulating in your body (and they can cause skin issues too).

Do you use your breath to make yourself feel better and relax? I often breathe into my belly, and then feel it expand out into my arms and legs to my fingers and toes.

Have you ever used an infrared sauna? I know I’ve mentioned it a few times lately, and some people have asked about it…I’ll talk about it soon (but now I’ll just say, I highly recommend it!).


  • http://thehealthybeehive.com/ Jane

    Congrats Lisa!  That is so amazing!   I’m not a yoga-er, but amazingly, they way you talk about breathing, is the same way I was taught for voice lessons!  That is the proper way to breath for singers too :) I guess it kinda makes sense if you think about it …  I want to get into yoga, I just haven’t found the right fit I guess.  Have a great night!

  • Lauren@spicedplate

    Congrats on yoga teaching certification!  I’m working towards mine and will complete the program in May — already, I’m learning so much more than I ever thought I would — and I’m only in the second week of the program!  Breathing is such an amazing tool for healing.  Reading this made me smile…I love how our paths seem to be parallel sometimes. 

  • http://www.pure2raw.com/ Pure2raw twins

    congrats on being a yoga teacher!! something we have thought of doing one day, first have to get better at yoga. we do love it. and are trying to get back into a regular habit of it.

  • http://alexiaku.wordpress.com/ Alexia Kulterer

    congrats and welcome to the club of yoga teachers! :) conscious breathing really helped me with my workout, listening to my body and how i feel in general. and using the ujayi breath during yoga really gets my fire going…. its great to teach it to others too and to see when people finally realize what breathing feels like. unfortunately  most people do it unconsciously

  • http://www.1970kikiproject.wordpress.com/ cathy@1970kikiproject

    happy valentine’s day, lisa, and CONGRATULATIONS on achieving your yoga teacher status! that is a great certification to have as a complement to what you already know/teach/do!
    there was an infrared sauna at the last health club i belonged to. to be honest, it never felt as hot as a steam sauna (?). but a sauna of any type is a good thing!
    deep breathing IS centring. and i totally believe that the skin reflects what is going on internally!
    good luck with your day, and hopefully sauna time is all scheduled into your agenda!

  • Anonymous

    Happy Valentine’s Day to ya Lisa!  And congrats on the yoga teacher certification!  I’d definitely love to take a class with you =)

    As life gets busier and busier, I always try to find new ways to calm down.  Might have to start with this soft belly breathing technique!

  • http://fitchocoholic.blogspot.com/ Gen

    Happy Valentine’s day! Congrats on the yoga cert! I’m definitely gonna look into this soft belly breathing……I get super stressed out way too often! 

  • http://www.FabFit50s.com/ Kathleen

    Congratulations, Lisa! That’s wonderful! I have rather feeble intentions to incorporate yoga into my week. It’s something I always THINK about doing, but I haven’t been consistent to date. What’s the minimum time I can get away with to get the benefits?

  • http://www.healthydiaires.com/ Maria@healthydiaries

    I would LOVE to come over and do yoga! Congrats Lisa!

    I know Yoga is so good for your body and I always say I will do it more often, but I never do.. I’m going to look into that Yoga online link you had on FB. I went back and read your posts about the soft belly and vagus nerve and they both had a lot of good info. If I can’t incorporate yoga as much as I’d like, I think I can at least practice those breathing techniques. Do you still have the breathing Mp3? If you do, I’d love to have it :-)

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    The breathing helps me a lot…even when I’m just driving and find myself feeling a little tense! I’ll look for the mp3…the Center for Mind-Body Medicine has a good one here too: http://www.cmbm.org/resources/self-care/soft-belly-meditation/

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    15-20 minutes can make a significant difference! I have to be conscious about it—because it’s easy for me to say that if I don’t have an hour it’s not worth doing at all, but that’s just not the case… You could probably find a 15 minute video on youtube or something, and there are some yoga phone apps too…that kind of stuff is always helpful for me (takes the brain power out of it in a sense!).

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    My sauna shuts of at 140 degrees F….that’s pretty hot. I usually heat it up to about 115 before I get it (sorry, I don’t know what that is in C), and then it takes about an hour to get up to 140… Since it’s dry heat, it takes a while to begin sweating (unless I just worked out), but once I start sweating, it just pours off me—I feel like it’s so cleansing! I like the infrared aspect of my sauna, but I think “heat therapy” in general is wonderful and detoxifying (and it feels darn good!).
    Hope your day is great :-)

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    The breath is so underestimated in US culture (probably other places too?)… I am really looking forward to that aspect of yoga and teaching people how to use in life in general!

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I agree…it’s wonderful how our paths cross and match up—really, what’s better than food and yoga? :-)

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I know how you feel about yoga—-I hated it at first. It actually took trying it several times of trying it out before I really loved it (the instructor made a huge difference), and I realized I really liked the classes that focused on alignment and biomechanics/physiology of the body. It just made it seem more practical and applicable to life.

  • Anonymous

    Congrats Lisa!

    I definitely don’t do enough yoga. It is something I’ve always wanted to get into, but I don’t make time for it. It’s already hard to find time to workout 4-5 times a week, but I know I could fit yoga in somehow!

    I have used breathing before whenever I would get nervous about something in the past. Like saying speeches at school. I was always terrified!

    I’ve never used an infrared sauna but would love to learn more about it!

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I wellness coached in a place that did that!! 
    It was amazing—it was a manufacturing company that made weather stripping (when I started there, I had no idea what weatherstripping was). At the beginning of each 12 hour shift, the crew would get together and go over any announcements and then do some stretching and breathing exercises (and then they’d go undo it by standing at a weatherstripping machine for 12 hours). 
    Also, my local grocery store, Wegmans, has stretch breaks…which isn’t breathing, but it’s still cool. Every so often, someone announces that it’s time for a stretch break, and the employees stop and stretch.
    I have a hard time sticking to a plan to practice breathing on its own…but when I add it in secondarily to my sauna time or even to driving, it’s not so bad. Today I was driving home and noticed how tense my shoulders and abs were…..so I just did like 3 belly breaths and it was better (and not too much of a commitment).

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I really don’t know if I’ll teach a lot of yoga specifically, but I do love the idea of weaving it in for people in their wellness plans (plus, if I’m bored of training someone and want to make them really sore the next day, I can sub in a yoga session for a gym workout!).
    Infrared saunas use ceramic (usually) or carbon heat, and they’re always “dry.” Many gyms have a steam room (which always freaks me out—I don’t know why), and sometimes saunas. It would probably be displayed somewhere if it was infrared, because the sauna company and the gym would probably want to boast the benefits… 
    I think heat for detoxing is great in general, and I just love the infrared aspect! It makes me feel so darn good!

  • http://caitplusate.com/ Caitlin

    How cool, had no idea yoga does wonders for skin! I’ve started practicing twice a week and haven’t noticed a difference in anything yet, except feeling less restless on rest days (I use yoga as active rest usually) but it’s only been a couple weeks so we will see! I’ve never used an infrared sauna, or much of any sauna for that matter. I can never stand to be in there for more than a few min and in the ones with hot coals, I get nervous being near them! Always picturing them somehow jumping out at me, weird! Congrats on being a yoga teacher :)

  • http://oliepants.wordpress.com/ Susan

    Congratulations!  That’s awesome!  I didn’t know about the impacts of yoga on skin!  I definitely will be looking into that more.  I totally believe in breathing for relaxation.  I do it all the time – probably b/c I’m stressed a lot.  :)

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I’m going to try and do a post about the connections between skin/spine health…I had the most interesting conversation with a yoga teacher about the central nervous system, and how every movement and pose should be connected back to how the spine is positioned and supported…and then how that translates to brain and body chemicals and the skin—phew! It’s a lot to wrap my head around, but I’ll work on it :)

  • http://www.FabFit50s.com/ Kathleen

    Thanks! I will make a real effort to do that! Brain power is often on short supply!

  • Laura @ nevernotbeautiful

    Congrats on getting certified! I can’t bring myself to do “regular” yoga after doing the hot kind… but I can’t bring myself to do hot yoga everyday because then I have to wash my hair everyday… excuses, excuses ;) haha. I need a good kick in the butt to get back into it!

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I can SO relate to that—I make decisions about the sauna based on hair washing too… I think I’m gonna go to hot yoga tomorrow, and then go in the sauna when I get home–then I won’t waste a hair-wash!

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