The Yogic practice of breathing, called pranayama, is an ancient method for mobilizing the body and mind toward balance. When we restrict the breath, we diminish our energy levels. When we relearn to breathe deeply, we allow our mind and body to utilize the nutrient-carrying and waste-removing power of oxygen in our blood.
In Yoga, breath is called Prana. Prana also refers to energy and in some references, to spirit or soul. Prana is what drives the body and mind, much like fuel for an engine. Pranayama means breath control or breath work.
Ancient Yogis understood that when they learned to consciously regulate breath, they could regulate their feelings and energy. Knowing how to control breath feels like a wave moving all the way from the diaphragm to the collar bones. It’s often described as breathing into the belly and flowing up and down like a wave of liquid.
To breathe in this way, the body must be relaxed. An easy way to achieve this state is progressive muscle relaxation. Begin by noticing the breath without trying to change it. Bringing awareness to the feet, point the feet and tense the muscles for a count of 5 then release the muscles. Next bringing awareness to the calves, tense the calf muscles for a count of 5 then release.
Move progressively up the body, tensing then releasing: thighs, buttocks, hips, belly, back, chest, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, jaw and finally the face. When finished, the body should feel relaxed. Check in and see if tension has crept in anywhere and do a tense and release to that area.
Balancing Breath (nadhi sodanah) is also called alternate nostril breathing. The Vivekananda Kendra Research Foundation has published several studies documenting balancing breath’s physiological effects. Balancing breath creates balances when we feel imbalanced and can help to bring a calmer center to our chaos within.
Begin sitting in a comfortable, upright position. Make a fist with the right hand. Extend the thumb and the ring and pinky fingers, leaving the index and middle fingers folded in toward the palm. Place the thumb against the side of the right nostril just below the hard area of the nose. Close the right nostril and slowly inhale through the left nostril. Holding the breath for one second, close the left nostril with the ring and pinky fingers. The release the thumb and slowly exhale through the right nostril, pause at the bottom of the breath, then inhale through the right nostril, close both for a second, then exhale through the left. Keep the inhales and exhales even.
Repeat the process of five cycles of alternating nostrils, ending by exhaling through the left nostril.
Lower the hand. Sit with eyes closed and observe for a few moments how you are feeling. Is there more freedom in the breath as you return to normal from the exercise? Is there more calm? Do you feel more alert and centered?
Balancing breath is beneficial any time you need more equanimity. It takes concentration to remember so many physical and mental tasks. In addition to the Prana benefits noted above, you may also realize that balancing breath hits many different aspects of our proprioceptors, thus short circuiting many of the customary patterns our minds and bodies get into when our moods feel out of control.
Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than proof-reading or editing. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)