One of my clients has just completed a week’s training in a special breathing technique called Pranayama, and I was amazed to see the difference it made to his physical and emotional wellbeing. Before the training, he’d arrived for our session anxious and stressed, and found it hard to relax on the table – but this time, he seemed to almost float into my studio, eyes shining, face more relaxed, and with a new kind of ‘presence’ I hadn’t noticed before.
Breath is life – and though it might seem pointless to teach ourselves to do something that’s supposed to come entirely naturally to us, there is a huge difference between the type of shallow breathing we do most of the time, and the disciplined, controlled breath that is pranayama. ‘Prana’ means life force, and ‘yama’ means discipline, and so, as the name suggests, this exercise opens up our inner ‘life force’, enabling us to re-energise our bodies in a structured, controlled way.
The practice itself is ancient, having been used as part of yoga and meditation for thousands of years, and it’s designed to focus the mind, improve concentration, calm the body and boost energy levels. While ‘normal’ everyday breathing only uses a fraction of our lung capacity, pranayama enables us to increase our lung capacity, bringing fresh oxygen to the body and brain, while eliminating toxins, improving digestion and providing all kinds of other health benefits.
The pranayama exercise I’m going to teach you is also particularly useful for bringing greater balance to brain activity. It’s a type of alternate nostril breathing, which, done for a few minutes each morning, can rebalance the left (‘thinking’) and right (‘feeling’) hemispheres of the brain, adjusting any over or under-activity in each area. So if you’re particularly stuck in your head and ruled by repetitive thinking, or highly emotional and prone to mood swings or depression, give this exercise a try, and observe the effects.
To begin, sit cross-legged on the floor, close your eyes and bring the second and middle fingers of your right hand to lightly touch your ‘third eye’ in the middle of your forehead. Rest the ring and little fingers on your left nostril and the thumb on your right nostril. Next, using your thumb, block off your right nostril and breathe gently in through your left nostril for a slow, silent count of four. Pinch both nostrils together and hold the breath inside your body for a few seconds, while concentrating on your third eye where your middle fingers are resting. Then, continuing to block off your left nostril with your ring/little fingers, release your thumb, and exhale slowly for a count of eight through your right nostril, pushing out any stale air from the bottom of your lungs by squeezing your stomach muscles at the end of the exhale. Pause here for a few seconds, then inhale for four through the right nostril before blocking it off and exhaling for eight through the left. Pause, then inhale through the same nostril for four, and keep repeating the pattern, pausing for a few seconds after each inhale/exhale.
Just a few minutes of this practice each day can have a powerful effect. You’ll quickly notice how much calmer your mind is, how your mind and emotions feel much more balanced, and how much more ‘alive’ and vital you become. And if you’re really getting into it, try following pranayama with a few minutes of meditation and you’ll exaggerate the effects even further!
In love and light,