As we begin 2013, we look for ways to improve our precious life. In our busy lives, we need simple methods which we can apply each day. We know that stress can have a negative impact on our bodies and mind. We know that continued stress has a negative impact on our longevity. So what do we have that is simple and can be effective. The breath or prana, our life force or spirit-energy.
Pranayama, the fourth of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, can be one method to reduce our stress. Pranayama, defined by Wikipedia, means “to extend the vital life force”. Pranayama can vary in technique from complex to simple. Do Yoga St. John will explore pranayamas over the next several months.
Why Pranayama? Experienced yoga teachers have seen the impact of a pranayama practice. Pranayama can reduce stress and anxiety, help with sleeplessness, ease pain, increase awareness and enable one to find a calm, quiet, inner peace.
How to practice Pranayama? To start, become aware of your breath. Observe your breath without judgment. Find a quiet place to lie on your back comfortably, with one hand on your abdomen below the naval and one hand above the naval. As you inhale, feel the breath from the nostrils and then expansion and the subtle changes in the body. As you exhale, feel the contraction. Next, gently but actively expand the abdomen on the inhale letting all the abdomen muscles open up. Now on the exhale, contract the abdomen and at the very end of the exhale, slightly pull the abdomen muscles in to the center of the body. Repeat this practice for 6 to 12 breaths. We will call this method basic pranayama.
Another pranayama, the long exhale, involves gradually increasing your exhalation until it is twice the length of your inhalation. This pranayana relaxes the nervous system and can reduce insomnia, sleep disturbances, and anxiety. Again, begin by lying on your back in a comfortable position, place a few rounds of basic pranayama from above. Control your breath and get your inhalation and exhalation to be equal. Gradually start to increase your exhalation by 2 or 3 seconds with the contraction of the abdomen at the end of the exhalation. As long as the breath feels smooth and relaxed, continue to increase the exhale by 1 or 2 seconds once every few breaths. Next, start to count the length of the inhale, for example it may be the count of 5 and see if you can double the count and exhale for the count of 10 without changing the pace of the count. If your breath feels uncomfortable or short, reduce the ratio to a comfortable level. Try the long exhale method for 8 or 12 breaths. Then go back to your natural breath for 6 to 8 breaths.
Pause, check in with yourself, notice if you feel more relaxed and less stressed.
Check in with us in the next months for more pranayama practices.