Breath is our life force. Prana is a Sanskrit term for the life force that holds all things together. Breath is intertwined with health, consciousness and spirit and is one of the most available tools that we have for creating and sustaining energy and altering how we feel. I have an old friend that sometimes pays me a visit – anxiety – and thus I have learned to see my breath as an ally, something that I can turn towards to encourage stability, presence and equanimity. The trick, of course, is remembering to turn toward breath; it is always there, it just takes practice.
Living in a culture that is chronically stressed, we could all benefit from learning to work with breath to bring about greater ease. Here is a breath practice, Extending the Pause After the Exhalation, that can settle the nervous system and steady the agitated mind. In yoga terms we call these agitations, the vrittis – one of the primary reasons I practice yoga. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2 "yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah," loosely translates to, yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind.
This breath practice or pranayama (ayama means to lengthen, stretch or extend) could take 5-10 minutes. Once you get comfortable with the practice, you can do it anywhere. I sometimes use it in the car.
Here’s how to do it:
- Find a comfortable position, sitting or lying down, that you can easily sustain. Begin to observe and follow your breath naturally. Get curious about your breathing.
- After about 1 minute, encourage your breath to be slow, deep and even. You might breathe in for a count of 5 and exhale for 5 counts. Please don’t strain the breath. If you feel like 5 is too long, you can shorten the count to 4.
- When your breath is stable, begin to pay particular attention to the exhalation. Follow the exhalation all the way out and experiment with lengthening it a little. Perhaps the exhalation begins to feel like a sigh.
- As you empty out the breath, become aware that there is a slight pause that occurs naturally at the end of the exhalation. Notice the pause and be in it. Allow the inhalation to simply arrive. Then, slide into the exhalation and reside in the pause. Notice that the inhalation is born out of the pause.
- When you start to get comfortable with the pause, you could explore lengthening the pause – perhaps 2 counts at first and see how this feels.
- Notice how you are pausing. Is it like a rest? Are you gripping or holding? Can you undo in the pause? After a few rounds of breath, play with extending the pause a little more. Notice how the breath empties into stillness and arises out of stillness.
- After a few minutes, let go of guiding the breath and just breath naturally. Observe the effects of this practice.
You might reflect: What happens to your inhalation when you lengthen the exhalation and rest in the pause? What is it like for you to be in the pause? Do you allow for natural pauses in your own life?
Donna Farhi’s The Breathing Book is a wonderful resource for anyone wishing to explore breath work. In my public yoga classes I usually include breath awareness or a specific breath technique.
My teaching schedule is listed below. I hope you'll join me. I am delighted to be teaching more private yoga sessions. I love working in this very personal way. If you wish to book a private or semi-private lesson, please contact me.
Wednesday: 12:30 pm - 1:45 pm
Octopus Garden - Gentle Yoga
Thursday: 10:00 am - 11:00 am
889 Yoga - Flow Yoga 1
Thursday: 7:45 pm - 9:00 pm*
889 Yoga - Restorative (beginning November 20th)
Sunday: 10:30 am -11:30 am
889 Yoga at The Four Seasons Hotel - All Levels Class
*Beginning the week of November 17th, my Thursday 7:45 pm class at 889 Yoga will change from a Flow and Restore format to a 75 minute candlelight Restorative class for the winter months. You don't need any yoga experience to do this class.