Breath is Life, right? All living things respire in some way. I often think of breath as this invisible thread that connects us all. What the tree exhales, I breathe in; and what was once in my great grandmother’s lungs eventually makes it to mine. This soft, ever-present, airy aspect of our being.
Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga (in the Yoga Sutra model), and it taps into this life-force power. These breathing practices work with the subtle energy yogis call prana that ‘rides’ the breath, so to speak, through our entire being.
Yogis are very interested in the breath, and for good reason. For one, paying attention to the breath offers us immediate embodiment. It grounds us in our physical being. You can try it right now: pause your reading for a moment, close your eyes, and feel 5 fuller, slower breaths. You see, simply feeling breathing enables our minds attention to ground in the sensations of the body. To do so helps settle down the ‘habitual-running-around-mode’ in which our mind typically operates.
And, breath anchors us in present time. You can’t breathe in the past and you can’t breathe in the future. So really feeling it helps our attention settle in how things are right NOW. And that’s very helpful in an overstimulated, multi-tasking, attention-grasping modern life.
I recently led a yoga & meditation retreat in Baja California, Mexico and each day we did asana (yoga poses) and pranayama practices. At one point during one of these sessions, I had so many different situations showing up in my students: one was nauseous from vertigo, one was recovering from a night of Montezuma’s revenge (eesh), another was overheated (maybe a menopausal situation?). One by one, I had put all three of them were in restorative yoga poses. Meanwhile I was leading the remaining students through a wind down of a pretty vigorous with lots of handstands and back bends. In other words, there was a wide variety of needs presenting themselves!
So, after a nice long savasana, or corpse pose all together, I decided we would practiced 10 minutes of smooth nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. I chose this technique because it is calming and balancing; it aims to harmonize the active and receptive, the masculine and feminine, the heating and cooling aspects of our being.
Here’s a simple way to practice it:
- Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet parallel, hips distance apart, or sit on the floor on a folded blanket in a cross-legged seat like sukhasana.
- Tip the pelvis as upright as possible and lengthen your entire spine.
- Rest your left hand on your thigh, palm face up (or, hand in jñana mudra).
- Bring your right hand toward your face. Rest your index and middle finger on your forehead. Bring the thumb to your right nostril. The ring and pinky finger come together and rest on the left nostril. Let all the fingers touch your face delicately.
- Re-lengthen your spine, keep your head centered, and close your eyes.
- Gently close the left side of your nose and INHALE through the RIGHT. Switch sides, and EXHALE through the LEFT. Repeat this for 7 rounds.
- Then other way! Softly close the right nostril and INHALE through the LEFT. Then, switch sides and EXHALE through the RIGHT side. Do this 7 times.
- Lastly, release your right hand also down to your thigh and take 7 more slow, calm breaths through BOTH nostrils.
- Enjoy a little more steadiness of mind and body.
Learn more about Interconnected Yoga with Sarah Clark @www.sarahclarkyoga.com.