Sitting surrounded by other people sticking their tongues out and breathing like they’re trying to fog up a mirror seems weird. But it sometimes happens in yoga class. So does sighing, om-ing, fluttering your lips and chanting. On the surface, they may seem like they serve no purpose, but there’s a reason to all of these things.
“As kids, we get to cry and scream and yell to release, but as adults, we are rarely afforded that opportunity,” says Bethany Lyons, founder and CEO of Lyons Den Power Yoga in New York City. “At its most basic level, emitting audibles connects you to the present moment. Sighs, deep breaths and audible sounds release pent-up frustrations and can feel like letting go of excess weight.”
Just one lion’s breath or om can make a difference, and each has slightly different benefits. If you feel shy or silly about letting yourself go, keep Lyons’ advice in mind: “Being concerned about looking good is boring. Get out there and live a little, and stop taking life and yoga so seriously!”
FIVE YOGA SOUNDS TO KNOW
Why do it: Commonly used to start and end a yoga class, om is a vibration. “It’s said to represent the sound of the universe and a way to connect to ourselves, each other and a higher power,” Lyons explains. “The vibration that occurs is said to stimulate the nervous system, relieve stress and depression and increase mental and emotional alertness.”
How to do it: Inhale deeply, and on the exhale, make the sound “aum” from deep in your belly. Allow the sound to vibrate through your whole body.
Why do it: Yoga instructors typically encourage using this breathing technique throughout class. Translated as “victorious breath,” ujjayi breathing generates heat, creates centered focus and calms the mind, Lyons says.
How to do it: With a closed mouth, gently constrict the muscles in the opening of your throat as you breathe in and out. The noise is described as both an ocean wave or Darth Vader. It’s audible, so the person on the mat next to you may hear it, but it should not be so loud that the entire class hears it.
Why do it: This may seem silly the first few times you do it, but lion’s breath has its place. Sticking your tongue out not only stretches the muscles of the face and neck and relieves tension, it also enhances circulation and even fortifies your voice, Lyons says.
How to do it: Take a deep breath. On your exhale, open your throat, stick out your tongue and make an audible “haaaaah” sound. If you wish, cross your eyes, too.
Why do it: At different points in class, your yoga teacher may encourage you to let out a sigh. “Sighing relieves stress and connects you to the present moment and your physical self,” Lyons explains. That helps you get more out of class, and the more you can practice being in the moment on your mat, the more you can do that off your mat.
How to do it: After a long inhale, open your mouth and exhale while sighing. Be as loud or as quiet as serves you in that moment.
FLUTTERING YOUR LIPS
Why do it: Also called horse lips, Mr. Ed and other names depending on the instructor, fluttering your lips relaxes the muscles in your face and relieves stress. Plus, it might put a smile on your face.
How to do it: With your lips closed, take a deep inhale. Keeping your lips together, exhale, allowing your lips to vibrate as the air passes out.