Updated: Nov 9, 2018
THE BREATH - PRANAYAMA
Yoga teachings insist that longevity depends on one's breathing rate. For example, a tortoise takes four to five breaths in a minute and it lives up to 200 years or more! Now that is amazing! Having a regular Pranayama practice can provide freedom from negative and harmful mental conditions like anger, anxiety and depression. You will also more likely experience a lightness of the body; a feeling of inner peace; better sleep; better memory and better concentration as well.
When we are stressed, anxious or scared the breath becomes short, fast rapid, irregular and our bodies become rigid. Yes, we take in air, of course we do, but do we ever just stop and focus simply on the breath? Taking in air and breathing are two completely different things. I think sometimes the only time that some of us do truly breathe is when we attend a regular yoga class! Hopefully the skills that one is taught in a yoga class have a spill over affect into our daily lives and we can then implement them when a stressful and anxious situation arises.
Let me share with you 5 different breathing techniques that can help soothe an anxious, stressed mind and body. These techniques are not difficult and can be life changing to many. Here we go:
The ‘Smile’ breath
Take a deep inhale through the nostrils
Hold the breath for two counts
Exhale as you drop your chin to your chest
Hold the breath for another two counts and lift the corners of your mouth
Inhale and lift your head
Exhale and open your eyes
This simple breath technique can elevate your mood instantly. You are pausing, you are taking a deep breath and a break from your busy mind which is no doubt, if you are anything like me, full of thoughts. Just in that short, simple instant, you are bringing more oxygen into your body and into your brain. By lifting the corners of your mouth, you are creating a nice little smile which inadvertently lifts your spirits and your mood. Try it, what have you got to lose! It may even make you laugh! And after all, don’t they say that laughter is the best medicine?
Yoga three-part breath (Dirga Pranayama)
This breath technique creates a state of mental alertness and has a calming effect on the brain.
Here is one way to do it:
Sit in a comfortable position with a nice tall spine. Inhale the breath through the nostrils into the bottom of the lungs so the belly expands. (practice this for a few rounds)
Next, inhale the first third of the breath into the bottom of the lungs as above, then inhale the second third into the midsection of the lungs so that the rib cage expands. (practice this a few times)
Now, inhale as above with the final third of the breath moving up into the top of the lungs, and feel your upper chest lift
To end, slowly release the breath and feel the upper chest lowering first. As you complete the out breath, draw your belly up and back towards the spine, completely emptying the bottom of your lungs.
It may be a good idea to place one hand on the belly and one on the heart, so you can feel the expansion and contraction more easily.
After performing this breath technique for 3 – 5 minutes you are more than likely to be feeling more centred and focused.
Ujjayi breath, or Ocean breath (Darth Vader breath)
This breath technique is soothing to the central nervous system as it calms the mind and supports greater focus.
Here’s how to do it:
Inhale through the nostrils with a slight constriction at the back of the throat so that the breath is audible. A bit like a light snoring sound. Feel the belly expand on the in- breath
Notice the little pause at the end of the in- breath (I call this a ‘peace pause’ where nothing else happens and everything is still)
Then exhale through the nostrils, again with the constriction in the back of the throat. Draw the belly in towards the spine on the out-breath
Notice the little pause at the end of the out breath this time
Continue for as long as you need.
The constriction at the back of the throat regulates the airflow entering and leaving the body. This is such a wonderful and healthful way to breathe folks. It has helped me immensely over the years not just in my yoga practice but also in other sporting activities as well. I had chronic asthma for many years and I believe that this technique has helped to strengthen my lungs immensely. I very rarely get asthma these days. The occasional wheeze with seasonal changes but nothing at all severe. I truly believe in the power of this breath technique. It is amazing!
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breath)
This is another one of my favourites. This is an excellent breathing technique to calm and centre the mind. It also helps harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain which correlate to the logical and emotional sides of our personality and it purifies and balances the nadis, the subtle energy channels, thereby ensuring smooth flow of prana (life force) through the body.
Start by focusing on the normal breathe for one minute. Observe the inhalation and exhalation and switch the eye towards the flow of the breath in each nostril
Place your right hand in Pranayama gesture. (pointer finger and middle finger resting on third eye space)
Close the right nostril with the thumb and breathe in deeply through the left nostril
Open the right nostril once more, at an equivalent time closing the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale slowly and relaxed through the right nostril
Inhale through the right nostril once more and exhale through the left nostril
That's One round: inhale left – exhale right – inhale right – exhale left. When ten rounds are complete, place the hands on the knees and concentrate for one minute or so on your normal breath. Return to Pranayama gesture and repeat the breath exercise starting with the right nostril. Breathe in right – breathe out left – inhale left – exhale right. When ten rounds are complete come back and rest the hands on the knees. Sit, contemplate and repeat several times if required.
Left nostril breathing (Chandra Bheda)
Breathing through the right nostril has an energising effect on the body. Breathing through the left nostril has a more calming, relaxing effect on the body. Therefore, left nostril breathing is a way to slow down the mind as it activates the right hemisphere of the brain and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Here’s how to do it.
Begin with the right thumb closing the right nostril (you can place 1st and 2nd fingers on third eye space)
Inhale through the left nostril to the count of four and then cover the left nostril with the fourth and fifth fingers of the right hand and exhale for the count of four through the right nostril
Repeat and continue for up to 20 minutes. If you suffer from insomnia, then extend the out-breath for longer e.g. 6. 8 counts.
I hope you can give one or more of these sequences a go and if so then I am sure that in no time you will start to reap the benefits of what a regular pranayama practice can bring to your daily life.
I shall leave you with a sweet verse from one of my favourite little books called ‘Go in and In’ by Danna Faulds.
Walk slowly – Danna Faulds
“It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens, makes space for imperfection.
The harsh voice of judgement drops to a whisper and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race; that we will all cross the finish line; that waking up to life is what we were born for.
As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward without even knowing where I’m going, that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk slowly in the mystery.”
Om Shanti, Trishna x