Take my breath away

Posted on 15 Feb 2013 at 8:15am

Gay yogi Trionne Barnett explores the healing power of breathing

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Trionne Barnett practices therapeutic yoga techniques that turn oxygen into energy.
(Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

SARAH DENISE MORGAN  | Contributing Writer

When Trionne Barnett first began studying yoga eight years ago, one of the most dramatic things she noticed was how calm she became when breathing and stretching in unison.

“Everything started moving in slow motion, and whatever happened in the day, I could leave it on the mat,” she recalls.

That curiosity inspired her — not just to practice yoga, but to understand its overall health benefits.

It has since become her calling. Barnett and her girlfriend built a studio in their back yard initially as a place for Barnett to conduct her practice. Today, that studio is one of two for Patva Yoga, where she passes along her therapeutic instruction to those who worried core strength was beyond them.

Barnett has witnessed how deep breathing techniques have brought dramatic physical and emotional healing to students suffering from COPD, rheumatoid arthritis and other illnesses.

Barnett sees students with stress and fatigue illnesses, like COPD and arthritis, improve through yoga therapy.

“I have watched the quality of their lives improve greatly through guided smooth and steady breath inhalation connected with gentle yoga stretching movements,” she explains in a soothing, almost meditative voice. As a yogi she knows “the more you breathe, and connect to the breath, the stronger you feel and your mind becomes calm, your muscles become tension free. It gives you confidence. Posture changes give you [a feeling] you can do anything. For me, it releases a deep-rooted strength I didn’t know I had.”

Barnett has been active for her entire life, but until she united breath and muscle movement through yoga, she hadn’t reached her full potential.

“With deep and steady breathing, you are completely grounded and centered,” she says.

There is no one form of yoga, and different techniques serve diverse needs of its practitioners. Students sometimes struggle with the faster- paced, more vigorous programs of some yoga studios, where they were unable to hold postures and balance their body weight, or master the synchronization of breath and movement, which is what builds strength.

“When I saw these students come to me for private practice, I decided to slow down my practice — slow down the breath. Through that I have watched immobile students become completely active. I started seeing amazing physical changes in people,” she says.

For one student, a COPD sufferer, she began with ujjayai breath — “an inhalation into the nose to a count of five and an exhale to a count of five — smooth, steady and calm — to the back of the throat, and an exhalation out of the nose, forcing all the air out,” she explains. “On a very basic level, the oxygen — the breath — reduced her stress. It increased the strength of her diaphragm and intercostal muscles between the ribs so she could get a full breath. With COPD, breathing is so shallow she had to learn to trust that when she exhaled, she would fill back up.”

Once the student could breathe again, her activity level increased.

“Having that extra oxygen in her body gave her more energy, so we started working on poses to improve her posture and build strength in the rest of her body,” much of which she had lost due to inactivity. “Now it is like night and day for her. She walks and lifts weights and exercises weekly and continues to practice yoga.”

Barnett has seen similar results with yoga students dealing with rheumatoid arthritis. She tells of one who has had difficulty closing her fingers into her hands. “After [one of my classes] specifically designed to open and stimulate joints, she shouted, ‘I can actually close my hands!’ It had been months since she had accomplished that feat.”

Longstanding yoga lovers likely won’t be surprised by these stories.

“Yoga stretches and strengthens. It is a full body workout, improving posture and the circulation function of your endocrine system, organs, and the whole body. I have one student who has lost 60 pounds,” Barnett says. But for many, the breath control is the most difficult aspect of a rewarding practice.

“It is a practice, and it takes time,” she counsels. “I practice the breath in my car, in the shower — everywhere. Inhale to a count of five, exhale to a count of five. Each breath is an opportunity for change in your mind and body.”

For more information about classes and training, visit PatvaYoga.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 15, 2013.

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