Updated: Nov 17, 2020
“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace” - Author Unknown
Pranayama is a science which refers to the channeling and expansion of our life force and energy. The word ‘Pranayama’ comes from two Sanskrit words, the first is ‘prana’ which refers to the fundamental life force that flows through all things, and ‘yama’ which means to control. Pranayama is, therefore channeling or controlling the life force through the breath.
Working with the breath is a fundamental component of any well rounded wellness plan, it doesn’t only apply to meditation. The breath serves as an anchor of which we can focus our attention upon. Through the breath we can come back to our center and feel grounded and calm in the midst of any stressful situation. It is also a connection point, bringing the mind and body together, working in harmony as one. Attention to the breath it is the perfect starting point to build your meditation practice upon.
Focus upon the breath is the fundamental point for harnessing your attention. During your meditation, it is very normal for your mind to wander into thoughts of the day. Even seasoned yogi’s and meditators experience this. Always remember though, meditation is not about stopping thought, it is about observing it and not engaging emotionally in it.
When our mind and body is connected to a singular point of focus through breath, we feel a sense of being stable, present in the moment and as a result more capable of handling challenging situations when they occur. I believe that when we take in a full long deep breath during moments of anxiety and fear, we are reclaiming our body, our mind and our ability to root into the situation to handle it. A different feeling from being scattered, confused and feeling powerless.
Breath work is a perfect tool because it is simple, and like most of the strategies I teach, it can be done anytime, and anywhere.
The following two breathing exercises are my favorite pranayama exercises to harness attention, and settle a restless mind. One of them includes visualization, and can be practiced as a meditation on its own. The other is a more advanced pranayama exercise, of which induces a deeper sense of relaxation, and consciousness as a result. I recommend this one before taking a seat for a longer meditation practice as it really helps you settle in and meditate without much inner distraction.
In any case you can try either of them to help you to relax, re-center and refocus a wandering mind.
Breath One – Balloon Breath – CALM
Balloon breath is a traditional belly breath. It is useful for calming your mind and reducing anxiety by instantly slowing down the stress response in the body. This exercise includes visualization to really increase the feeling of sensory awareness between the body and mind.
Sit down to begin, taking long deep breaths into your belly. To enhance the awareness of your body’s response to breath, you can place your hands on your belly, while visualizing your belly filling up like a hot air balloon that’s about to lift off up into the air.
You can imagine that you are sitting in the balloon basket ready to take off. Allow any feelings of anxiety, stress, fear or uncertainty to build up within you, and as you exhale those feelings are leaving your body, and becoming the fire that’s firing up the balloon, lifting it up into flight.
With a big sigh through the mouth, exhale all the fiery breath up into the balloon, inviting a new sensation of relaxation, and calm to as fill you as the negative feelings leave your body.
See the balloon up in the air, and finally the fiery breath gives way to a cool peaceful one as the balloon stabilizes into a soaring glide. You are finally relaxed, calm and centered. Allow yourself to relax even deeper, breathing now in a way that is easy, effortless and natural.
Stay in this easy breath now for a few minutes, enjoying peaceful moments of silence, as you imagine yourself soaring through the air above the world. You feel so relaxed, calm, light and carefree now.
When you are ready, gently take a deeper breath in and invite movement into your body. Gently awaken it by wiggling your finger and toes, or perhaps take a nice stretch as you would in the morning. Really slowly and easily return to full conscious awareness by tuning into the sounds in the environment around you, the feeling of the air on your skin and any scent on the air. Open your eyes when you are ready to continue with the day.
Breath Two - Alternate Nostril Breath – BALANCE
Alternate Nostril is more of an advanced breathing exercise. This technique is known as ‘nadi shodhana’ in traditional pranayama practices and aims to balance the energy and flow of prana throughout the body.
Alternate nostril breath engages both hemispheres of the brain throughout the exercise which helps with coordination and balancing the function of the nervous system.
It is said that the right nostril is connected with the left hemisphere of the brain and the left nostril with the right hemisphere of the brain. By alternating the breath through each nostril it induces a state of harmony between the two hemispheres, encouraging relaxation, stress reduction and is also helpful in eliminating insomnia and improving concentration.
How to Do It
To begin, sit comfortably and relax, taking in a few deep breaths. Using the thumb of the right hand lightly block off the right nostril and exhale through the left. Then take a full inhalation through the left nostril keeping the right side closed.
Release your thumb from the right nostril.
Now using your pinky finger of your right hand (you can fold the ring, middle, index finger gently in towards the palm of your hand so they are out of the way, as shown in the image above) gently close off your left nostril and exhale through the right. Then take a full inhalation through the right nostril keeping the left side closed, releasing the baby and ring finger from the right nostril. Repeat the same steps above for 5 rounds until you feel a sense of peace, calm and centeredness.
Because of the deeply relaxing effect this exercise has on the body and mind, it is beneficial to practice it before engaging in a longer or deeper meditation practice, or even last thing at night before bed. The deeply restful effect of this exercise helps to induce a deep, quality sleep long lasting sleep easily.
I hope you have enjoyed these simple enough for beginners, yet effective enough for advanced practitioners exercises. remember, the beauty of yoga is that it need not be complicated for it it have a profound effect on your body and mind, so take it easy, relax and let go into your practice without judgement, fear or any pressure. Allow yourself to be easy about it, and enjoy! Let me know how it goes.
Until next time, don't forget to be realistic and daydream often,