Intentional Pranayama

Practicing Intentional Pranayama (Breathing techniques)

Close your eyes... take a deep breath...

I had to seriously prevent myself from writing the rest of the lyrics by Boyz2Men. Can you blame me? I am a 90s girl afterall.

Admittedly, I had to do a few rounds of breathing before starting my blog entry today. I needed to create the mental space to allow my words to flow from a place of authenticity, learning and intention. I cannot express enough to you just how impactful breathing is for our mental state.

There is a science in Breathing. It helps us to circulate our blood, releasing toxins from the waste in our body and detoxifies our lymphatic system. Breathing helps to create space within our bodies in order to improve lung capacity and reduce stress and anxiety, bringing into a space of relaxation and calm. It is a wonderful practice to improve digestion and general well-being. The art and practice in breathing helps to facilitate calmer, more logical and sensible disposition, regulating hormone function and brain capacity as it activates neural pathways.

Yes, naturally we breathe. However just because breath is automatic does not mean that it is serving us best. Breath awareness is about being mindful of your breathing. Our breath moves according to our physiological responses to stress, a workout, or anxiety. It can quickly move from shallow and difficulty in breathing to hyperventilation. However, when we are aware and focused on our breathing, we are able to facilitate through our emotional state in a healthy way. We are thus able to activate our parasympathetic nervous system and relieve stress, relieve tension, break through depression, ease our anxiety, beat insomnia, improve digestion, improve mental clarity, inspire creativity and just calm ourselves down. It is important that we recognise that breathing is a form of meditation and an artful response to navigating our selves through the recesses of our emotions, mind and spirit.

Here are 5 transformational breathing techniques to practice in yoga and in your daily life:

1. Basic Breath Awareness or Shamatha: This is breathing naturally with a focused awareness of the breathing path. Notice the breath movement through the rise and fall of your belly. Sit up straight, lengthen your spine and soften your gaze. You can do this breath sitting, standing or laying. Observe the way you feel and ease your breath through your body and connect to your deeper self.

2. Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath or Ocean Breath): Ujjayi breathing or victorious breath is a wonderful way to ease the nervous system and bring a feeling of peace to the body. It helps to lengthen your breath, improve lung capacity, improves stability in the body and brings you into the present moment. It creates a soothing oceanic sound. Listen to your breathing as you close your eyes and ears and feel the ocean breath flow through you. Ujjayi breath is a powerful breathing technique to use during vinyasa yoga practice. How to: Exhale by drawing your abdomen towards your spine. Inhale by releasing your abdomen and feel the sensation of breath fill your chest, then your belly. Air only comes in from the top, down in your lungs. Now add the sound of ocean.  Breathe the air in and out slowly and rhythmically, finishing the Ujjayi breath.

3. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate-Nostril Breathing): Ah my favourite! Alternate nostril breathing helps with mental clarity, creates balance, regulates the flow of air through the nasal passages, improves concentration and expands mental capacity. In Sanskrit 'nadi' means channels or pathways. It is a powerful technique to calm and balance the masculine and feminine energies as well as improving balance in the left and right hemisphere of our brains. How to: With your right hand, bring your index finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, lightly using them as an anchor. The fingers you will be actively using are the thumb and ring finger. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose. Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly. Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause. Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale. Inhale through the right side slowly. Close the right nostril with your thumb so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause. Open your left nostril and release the breath slowly through the left side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale. Repeat. Do this for 5 - 10 cycles

4. Square Breathing or Bahya Kumbhaka Pranayama (Breath Retention): Breath retention creates an increased awareness and helps to open up the body to subtle energies. It is a powerful way to improve cell longevity and mental rejuvenation. Many yogis consider that retention is the main aspect of pranayama. Prolonging the duration of the retention is thought to prolong life itself, and is generally considered a key to inner transformation. It is also one of the most direct means of effecting changes in consciousness. Breath retention is often used in hatha yoga. How to: Exhale everything out through your mouth. Seal the lips and inhale slowly to the count of 4 through your nose. Hold your breath at the top for a count of 4, keeping lips sealed. Exhale through the nose for 4—taking all 4 counts to release the breath at a controlled pace. When lungs are completely empty hold for a count of 4. Focus on creating space with every inhale and releasing with every exhale.

5. Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull-Shining Breath): This breathing technique is a powerful cleansing technique. It involves active exhalations and passive inhalations. Kapalabhati improves digestion, tones and strengthens the abdominal muscles. It helps to prepare the body for more advanced forms of pranayama. It improves concentration and memory. How to: Kapalabhati consists of alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Exhales are generated by powerful contractions of the lower belly, which push air out of the lungs. Inhales are responses to the release of this contraction, which sucks air back into the lungs.

Take some time daily and practice a breathing technique and help to cleanse your body, mind, and spirit.

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