Pranayama

Grounding breath practice for hectic times

Photo credit: Chris Wojdak

As part of my yoga therapy certification program, I’ve been privileged to be able to learn about yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, from Mona Warner of Janati Yoga School. Ayurveda is an ancient system of holistic medicine that’s been practiced for thousands of years in India and elsewhere. One of the key concepts in Ayurveda is the use of opposite qualities to bring balance. We already do this instinctively to some degree – when you’re cold, you drink something warm, for example.

When the world around us is chaotic, fast-moving, and rapidly changing, it can help us move towards balance when we slow down and add consistency of rhythm and routine. At the same time, the very nature of hectic times is that it can feel impossible to do the very things that help bring us into a more balanced state.

A simple way you can cultivate these qualities of consistency and slowing down is by using a rhythmic breath practice. The practice I’m sharing today is a version of Sama Vritti Pranayama, or Equal/ Box Breathing. I like to start with a very simple variation based on the breath rhythm that’s comfortable for you and without any breath holding.

  1. Find a comfortable, relaxed position either seated or lying down where you feel supported and at ease.
  2. Take a few moments to settle in and notice any sensations in your body that are calling for your attention. If there’s something you can do to be just a little more comfortable, take time to make those adjustments.
  3. Begin to observe your natural breath. (Breath often changes when we observe it. This is OK – just do your best to relax and let the body find its own rhythm of breathing.)
  4. Very gradually, begin to deepen the inhale. Don’t rush to get to a deeper breath. As the inhales deepen, notice that you don’t have to do anything particular with the exhale. The body knows what to do; just relax as the breath flows out.
  5. As you gradually deepen, notice when you start to feel some new strain or restriction around the top of the inhale breath. When that happens, stop deepening and back off a little so the whole breath is still very comfortable. This means some people might not deepen much or at all.
  6. When you find the length of inhale that works best for you in this moment, you can begin to work with the exhale. Count the length of your inhale, and then match the length of the exhale to the length of the inhale. For example, if you’re inhaling to a count of 4, you’ll exhale to a count of 4. Your number may be longer or shorter than that.
  7. After several cycles, you can release the counting and the control of your breath, and allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm. Rest and observe the state of your body and mind as a result of this practice.

As with any practice, if you start to notice any physical or mental symptoms increasing or find that you’re straining or uneasy with any part of the practice, it may not be right for you. Please discontinue and seek support before exploring any further. Everyone responds to breath practice differently, so if this isn’t a grounding practice for you, don’t force it. Feel free to reach out if you’d like other suggestions.

I wish you balance and calm this holiday season! Be well.

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