Pranayama: Finding Your Breath
Take a breath. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Fill the lungs up. Let the air out.
I’ve no doubt after you’ve read that first sentence you’ll feel a little different; hopefully better. Possibly the one defining element yoga has when compared to any other form of physical activity such as gymnastics or calisthenics is the connection of movement to breath.
An asana (physical) practice alone will make the body stronger and more flexible but its original purpose was to prepare the body to be able to sit in meditation for long periods of time. When we learn how to connect our breath to our movement, it becomes more than a physical practice: we begin to align the body and mind.
Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for control of our life force or energy which we can identify by our breath. For example, ever noticed how when you’re scared or excited your breath becomes quick and shallow compared to when you’re sleepy or relaxed and you tend to breath more slowly and deeply? The reason for this is simple science: when we go into fight, flight or freeze mode our bodies grasp for as much oxygen as possible so we can spring into action (if needed) whereas when there is no threat to our existence, our blood pressure is lower so our breathing is more controlled and we can live to fight another day!
Our respiratory system is unique in that it functions both voluntarily and involuntarily. Thankfully, we don’t have to consciously think to breath every single second we are alive; it happens automatically. However, if we choose to, we can control how we breath and for desired effects. This has been an ancient tradition in Chinese and Indian cultures for centuries but it is fast becoming an adopted approach in the West as a healing method in the form of mindfulness.
Reported benefits of breath work can include: centering the mind, being more efficient at work, dealing more positively with life’s challenges – and the best part is that it is easy to do, requires very little time and no equipment. Regular practice for just a few minutes a day will create real changes in energy levels, sleep patterns and circulation.
Intrigued? Try these 4 techniques to start breathing easy and find balance and a sense of calm when you need it most!
1. Learn how to breathe
Sounds obvious, right? Wrong. Many people only use the top part of their lungs and ‘chest breathe’. Like any muscle, it’s important to use it all to prevent weakness.
- Lie down on your back, legs out straight and relax.
- Place your hands on your stomach. As you breathe in, let your tummy rise into your hands. As your breath out, it flattens again. Repeat 3 or 4 times.
- Move your hands to the side of your ribs.
- Breathe in and expand your ribs sideways. As you breathe out, the rib cage contracts back to its original position. Repeat 3 or 4 times.
2. Watch your breath
- Chose to lie on your back, legs out straight and arms by your sides or sit in a comfortable position – either cross legged or against a wall.
- Using the breathing technique from step 1, count each inhale and exhale as 1.
- Breathe and count up to 10. Then work your way back to 1.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nodi Sodhana
- Sit up in a comfortable position.
- Rest one hand on your knee or lap.
- With your other hand, rest your first and middle finger in the centre of your forehead. Allow your thumb to sit on one nostril and your third finger to rest on the other. The little finger can tuck in or stick out in the air.
- Take a deep breath in and out.
- On your next inhale, cover one nostril.
- Close off both nostrils.
- Release the opposite nostril to exhale. Inhale through the same nostril and repeat so at any one time your are only inhaling and exhaling through one nostril.
4. Three Part Breath or Viloma
With Viloma, you either inhale in three parts and exhale completely. Or do the opposite, inhale completely and exhale in three parts.
- Let’s start with the latter: take a deep breath in.
- Let out a third (imagine the air decreasing to your shoulder level) – Hold it!
- Let out another third (air level falls to below your ribs) – Keep that last little bit!
- Let out the final third (lung feels empty)
- Inhale and repeat.
#1 Find a quiet space – anywhere is fine! (Your car is a great place.)
#2 Find comfort in either seated or lying down.
#3 Put your phone on silent.
#4 Set a timer.