A few times a day, my smartwatch buzzes to tell me to breathe. Admittedly, I used to shrug off the notification and continue on with whatever I was doing. I never thought the simple act of paying attention to my inhales and exhales could compare to a capital-b Breathwork routine like box breathing or Nadī Shodhana since it didn’t require a timed manipulation of the breath. I assumed something I considered so basic could never do that much for me—until yoga teacher and author Jessamyn Stanley showed me otherwise. In her new book, Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance, Stanley spends a whole chapter describing why breathing at your normal pace is one of the most powerful and healing breaths of them all.
Why simple can be best when it comes to breathwork.
Yoke applies yogic lessons to everyday life through a series of sometimes funny, always unflinchingly honest essays. The breathwork chapter is all about using the breath to connect to prana, the unseen energy that unites everything around us. And all you really need to do to access it is pay attention to your inhales and exhales through the nose. That’s it.
For anyone who questions how something as seemingly simple as sitting down and breathing could ever be beneficial, Stanley says that though this process is automatic, it’s also incredibly complex. “Breathing is work and breathing is hard,” Stanley says on a call with mindbodygreen. “So much of the real power of breathing is not even in the inhales or the exhales themselves: It’s in the retention of breath, in those spaces at the beginning and the end.”
Stanley finds that paying attention to those brief pauses between inhale and exhale can feel uncomfortable, even alarming. But, she says, “all the answers are in that space.”
While Stanley first started tuning into the breath to deepen her physical yoga postures, she’s found that the real power comes when she does it off the mat. “Returning to my breath has kept me out of so much trouble,” she says. Whenever she feels stressed, angry, ashamed, resentful, or any other overwhelming emotion, connecting to breath—not necessarily through a formal practice, but a quick look inward—can bring her back to herself every time.
In this excerpt from the Yoke audiobook, Stanley guides listeners through how to take that moment to breathe, today and every day.
Audio excerpted from Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance by Jessamyn Stanley (Workman Publishing) copyright ℗ 2021, Workman Audio, copyright © 2021.