As we discussed last week, the power of the breath can never be underestimated. Pranayama means “controlling the life force.” Prana or the energy of life is taken in with the inhale and toxins, stagnation, and wastes are released with the exhale. While there are many physiological benefits of pranayama, the bottom line is that if we can learn to control the breath, we can learn to control the mind. The mind becomes centered in the breath and the nervous system is given a chance to calm itself and reboot. With regular practice, pranayama becomes simultaneously energizing and deeply relaxing and is just one technique to improve overall mental well-being.
The first exercise you can try is called ujjayipranayam and is translated as “victorious breath.” Sitting in a comfortable position, while slightly constricting the back of the throat, breathe deeply in and out of the nose. At first, keep the breath even and become aware of the flow of air on inhale and exhale. If you are practicing correctly, you will hear a hissing or ocean sound in the back of the throat. This breath centers the mind, warms the body, and is a wonderful technique for releasing tension. If you have a yoga practice, this is the breath you should use throughout your time on the mat, matching inhales and exhales to specific movements. As a daily breathing practice, start by breathing in for four counts and out for four counts between five and ten times as directed above.
The three-part breath is a wonderful way to expand the body’s capacity for air intake, release stress, and ground yourself. The three parts are the abdomen, the diaphragm/lower rib cage, and the upper chest. Taking a long and slow inhale, fill the abdomen first, then the lower rib cage, and then the upper chest. As you breathe out, reverse the order, exhaling from the upper chest, then the lower rib cage, and, finally, the abdomen. If it helps to appropriately direct the flow of air, you can place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest to feel their rise and fall as you breathe. Repeat as desired.
Lastly, alternate nostril breathing or anulomaviloma helps to restore a sense of balance and ease throughout the mind and body. Sitting comfortably, bring the right thumb to the outside of the right nostril and the right ring finger to the outside of the left. Close the right nostril and inhale through the left for four counts, close both nostrils, retain the breath for sixteen counts, and keeping the left nostril closed, exhale through the right for eight counts. And then reverse, breathing in through the right, retaining, and out through the left nostril while keeping the right closed. This is one set. Start with three to four sets working your way up as you like. You can increase the counts of breath and retention in the ratio of 1:4:2.
Breathe in, breathe out, and begin.
Billy Rosa is a Registered Nurse, Integrative Nurse Coach Visiting Faculty, University of Rwanda