How to Unite Body and Mind With Conscious Breath
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
As explained by the Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, the breath is the key for calming us down, and bringing us back to our own center. In yoga, we believe that by creating a deep connection with ourselves, through conscious breath, we can achieve domain over ourselves. As you move in a yoga class, as you listen to the teachings and as you relax your breath — paying attention to what keeps you alive — you start the journey back home. You return to your peace and the ultimate nature of your mind.
Another wonderful yoga master, B.K.S. Iyengar, explains that yoga is an ancient but perfect science that deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of ones being, from bodily health to self-realization.
Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness, and consciousness with the soul. Yoga can help you to maintain a balanced attitude in day-to-day life, and will endow you with skills you can use in the performance of many types of actions. When you do the yoga postures, you may reveal to yourself where you are resisting your natural state so that you can release and relax. It sounds complex, but at the same time it’s simple: you just need to start breathing and moving. Yoga is the balancing and joining together of our energy, mind and body.
If you’ve never tried yoga before, just one class will open you up to the different ways to experience stability, develop control over your emotions, gain more physical stamina, become more intuitive, focus and hopefully become more balanced in different situations in your daily life.
Give it a try, and see how your life will improve!
Pranayama Breath Control: The Key to Maximizing Your Energy
Yoga is an ancient practice that can take many different forms. From devotion, to physical movement, to the quest for knowledge, yoga is as unique as all of its various practitioners. Breath control has been and continues to be a large part of yoga. It is believed that breath control not only enhances clarity but, helps to restore the body’s natural flow of energy. In yoga there are more forms of breath control than you might imagine. The word pranayama can be broken down into two smaller words. The first word, “prana”, is the name for the life force or energy that flows through the body. The second half of pranayama is “ayama” which means extension or control. Alternately, the Sanskrit word “pra” also means before, or “to breathe”. This article will explore some of its forms, such as Samavrtti, Ujjayi, Kumbhaka, Anuloma Viloma, Kapalabhati, and Sithali. Although their names might sound complicated these breathing techniques are easy to practice and have varying degrees of mastery – much like yoga itself.
Samavrtti: The first type of breath control is the most normal and well known to every person that walks this Earth. Samavrtti in Sanskrit means “same action”. This is a steady even breath where the inhale matches or is equal to the exhale in duration. This is a slow and steady breath, the breath of relaxation. To begin practicing this form of breath control, inhale for four counts and then exhale for four counts. This action is believed to calm the mind and create a sense of balance.
Ujjayi: The next form of breath control is the most commonly practiced in yoga. Ujjayi breath means “victorious breath” in Sanskrit and is sometimes called the “ocean breath.” Ujjayi breath is an audible breath. This is formed by partially closing the epiglottal passage or slightly closing the throat. Much like Samavrtti, this breath is even. To practice Ujjayi close your mouth and breath in slowly and continuously for four counts. Exhale in the same manner, keeping the breath in through the nose. This form of breath control is said to help tone the internal organs, increase body health, improve concentration, and more.
Kumbhaka: This is the practice of holding one’s breath, which is where this form draws its name. Kumbhaka in Sanskrit means “to retain the breath”. Continuing to build on the pranayama previously described, begin with Ujjayi. Once you have established a comfortable rhythm, hold your breath for four to eight counts in between every four breaths. In the beginning your Kumbhaka or retention should start off shorter. As you become more practiced in this art, begin increasing the retention. Also one may begin to reduce the number of breaths in between the retentions. Kumbhaka is believed to strengthen the diaphragm, restore energy and cleanse the respiratory system.
Anuloma Viloma: This form of pranayama might look a bit funny to us Western practitioners of yoga but it is quite beneficial. Anuloma Viloma means Alternate Nostril Breathing in Sanskrit. Much like its name implies, practitioners use their right hand to alternate closing your different nostrils. The first step to learning how to practice this form of breath control is the Vishnu Mudra or hand position with the index and middle fingers curled. Lightly press your right thumb on the outside of the right nostril and inhale only through your left nostril. Keep your mouth closed. Close your left nostril with your ring finger and hold your breath momentarily. Release your thumb and exhale through the right nostril. Repeat the process inhaling through the right nostril. Start slowly with a low number of cycles and then progress from there. This form of breath control is believed to promote the flow of energy, as well as lower the heart rate and relieve stress.
Kapalabhati: Also known as “The Shining Skull,” this type of pranayama is a little bit different from those we have previously explored. Kapalabhati incorporates a rhythmic action by pumping your abdominal muscles on the exhales. Loosen up your abdominal muscles before beginning this practice. To begin, fill your lungs and then push all of the air out in a quick thrust. Inhalation automatically follows, creating this rhythm of breathing. Upon the exhale you have completed one cycle. When starting this practice begin with a low number of cycles or repetitions such as 10. Continue to build from there working up towards four rounds of twenty cycles of breath. This pranayama is thought to strengthen the diaphragm, restore energy and cleanse the respiratory system.
Sithali: Our final form of pranayama for this article, sithali, is roughly translated as “The cooling breath.” This form differs from other types of pranayama as the inhale is drawn through the mouth. Begin by curling your tongue and then slightly stick it out. Draw your breath in through your curled tongue, retain the breath closing your mouth and exhale through your nose. Repeat this process anywhere between five to ten cycles. This type of prana energy is believed to cool the body while providing a feeling of wellness.
**Contraindications: Some pranayama techniques such as breath retention or sharp, forceful breathing may not be safe during pregnancy.
**References: Much of this information comes from the wonderful resource of “Anatomy of Yoga” by Dr. Abigail Ellsworth