BREATHE: CONNECT DEEPLY WITH LIFE
I often find myself breathing shallowly in those moments when I’m under a lot of stress. At times, this becomes so extreme that I’m all but holding my breath. Ironically for me and probably for you, too I tend to hold my breath during those moments when I need it the most. Breathing brings us into the moment. It calms us. It slows us down. It regulates our nervous system and attunes us with our own body. And, in addition to all of this, breathing can be extremely meditative.
The purpose ofpranayama (Sanskrit for “breath”) is to direct energy into the spine and brain. Breath focuses the energy in the power line of our body; it redirects it from being expended and wasted on external nonsense, such as stress. In short, it sets us straight. Along with yoga and meditation, breathwork has gained popularity and recognition in recent years. Still, its power to transform is largely underestimated. If we are what we eat and what we think, we are even more so how we breathe. When we breathe deeply and fluidly, our experience of life will also be more deep and fluid.
As with the more traditional recipes earlier in this part of the blog, I will also provide pranayama (another word for breathwork) “recipes” for each season. These various techniques will provide you with a means of accessing energy that is dormant or stuck within your body, as well as with the energy you need for a particular season. As with nutrition, also with breath: Each season requires a unique breathing technique to tap into what your mind, body, and spirit require during that particular cycle.
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HEAT-GENERATING WINTER BREATH
This breathing technique uses the right nostril to generate heat in the body. It’s a great exercise for winter, when we need to generate a bit of extra heat from the inside out. This breathing technique increases energy and vitality, improves digestion, and reduces anxiety and depression. Note: Do not complete this exercise if you have high blood pressure.
Begin by sitting in a comfortable cross-legged position, with your spine erect. Place your right elbow on your left palm. Using your ring finger, close your left nostril. Inhale through your right nostril as you slowly count to four, remove your finger from your left nostril, and exhale through your left, nostril as you count to four. Repeat this breathing pattern ten times. As you continue practicing and build up more stamina, work your way up to eighty breaths total. Eventually your exhale should be double the amount of your inhale. When you are done, take a few moments to breathe in and out through both nostrils before you go about your daily activities.
BHRAMARI SPRING BREATH
Bhramari means “bee” in Sanskrit, and this exercise is so named because of the humming sound it creates in the back of the throat. I like to use this breath in the spring because this season is a time of fertilization, which always makes me think of our bumblebee friends. This powerful form of breathing reduces fatigue and mental stress; reduces anxiety, frustration, and anger; and improves concentration. Not only that, but it also positively impacts ear, nose, mouth, and eye issues, and since spring is the season when we are prone to more allergies, we really want to keep these areas healthy. This simple breathing technique can be practiced anywhere, which makes it a great option for on-the-spot de-stressing.
Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, with your spine straight. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Listen to all of the sounds around you, starting with the ones far away, moving in to the ones closest to you, inhaling deeply and exhaling deeply. Once you have come into a regular, steady breath pattern, lift your index fingers to your ears, and gently press on the tragus (the small cartilage part of your ear), gently closing them (do not put your fingers inside your ear). Keeping your mouth closed, slowly inhale through your nostrils and on the exhale make a high-pitched humming sound like a bee as you release your breath through your nose. Pause at the bottom of your breath, then inhale slowly and fully. Repeat this cycle five times.
COOLING SUMMER BREATH
Just as we can use our breath to warm up in the winter, in the summer we can use it to cool down. This is a great breathing technique for summer when we are feeling a bit overwhelmed from the intense summer heat. Breathing through your left nostril soothes emotions, is calming, cooling, and helps when you can’t get to sleep.
Sit in a comfortable position and align your head, neck, and spine. Start to pay attention to your
breathing; after a few breaths, close your eyes to go deeper with your concentration. Breathe in and out naturally, feeling your breath travel throughout your body on the inhale. On the exhale, release the breath from your body.
Once you feel connected with your breath, open your mouth and curl your tongue lengthwise, then stick out your tongue. Pretend you are drinking through a straw as you inhale across your tongue and into your mouth. Notice the cooling sensation of your breath. Bring your tongue back in, close your mouth, and exhale completely through your nostrils.
Repeat this breathing pattern for two to three minutes to start, ultimately working your way up to ten minutes.