Inhale, Exhale: Yogic Breathwork
From your first yoga class on, your teacher has encouraged you to find the connection between your breath and the poses. You’ve felt the opening of an inhale and the release of an exhale that allows your body to move deeper into a twist or a stretching pose. When that happens, it’s easy to understand why pranayama, or “extension of the life force” is considered one of yogic sage Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga (the entire practice of yoga poses is another limb). In that moment when your breath and body are in harmony, you feel centered, energized and secure physically, no matter how challenging the sequence you are trying to master.
It’s easy to feel that sensation in class, when you are in a quiet environment filled with breathing and movement. For many students, though, finding that point of synchronicity is much more challenging without the physical cues of a yoga practice. If you’re one of them, a pranayama practice might not make you want to jump up and down with excitement. Yoga teacher Tony Briggs even says in Yoga Journal that he used to skip yoga on days his teacher would do breathwork.
But, pranayama is more than forcing yourself to sit still and breathe. Drawing your attention to your breath helps calm your mind and refresh your body. Many yogis claim it also boosts metabolism. And, it’s great stress relief.
Remember too, that you don’t have to camp out on a bolster for 30 minutes if you don’t want to. The practices below can be done in a few minutes, wherever you are. What’s important is that you let your breath become even and full. Let it refresh your body and calm your mind.
Here are some pranayama practices to try:
Ujjayi Pranayama (Conqueror Breath) Benefits: This breath helps calm you down in stressful situations and helps clear toxins out of your body.
How to do it: Inhale. Exhale with your mouth wide open, making a “ha” sound in your throat. Visualize that are you breathing out as you would to fog a mirror. After you are comfortable with this, try it with your mouth closed, still making the same sound. You can start with five to eight minutes of this practice and gradually work your way up to 10 to 15 minutes. Breathe normally for a minute or two afterward, then take a brief Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Mrigi Mudra (Deer Seal) Benefits: Besides often being used to ease headaches, focusing on the image of the deer in this pranayama practice helps you see the simplicity of the world around you.
How to do it: Make a fist with one hand (many people prefer to use their dominant hand, but it’s up to you). Leave your middle three fingers in a fist. Lengthen your ring and pinky fingers, trying to get the tips together. Without twisting your body or your head, bring those two fingers to your nose. If you are working with your right hand, your fingers will seal your left nostril and your thumb your right (reverse if you are working with your left hand). Close you right nostril, inhaling through your left. Close your left nostril and exhale through your right. Keep in mind that you are simply closing off each nostril with no pressure. Repeat a few times, then release the mudra and breathe normally.
Simhasana (Lion Pose) Benefits: This practice helps relieve stress in your face and neck.
How to do it: Kneel on the floor, with one ankle crossed over the other. Sit on your heels. Push your hands into your knees and splay your fingers. Inhale, then open your mouth on the exhale and curl your tongue toward your chin. As you breathe out, make a “ha” sound. Repeat two or three times, then switch legs and repeat.
You can take any of these practices off the mat with you. Wherever you are, let your mind release as you breathe, focusing on the calm rhythm of inhale and exhale. Feel your face and neck relax. You can soften your gaze or close your eyes during some of your pranayama practice if you would like.
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