Breathe. Stop. Take it in. Let your belly expand on the inhale, and gently draw your navel in toward your spine as you exhale. Close your eyes for a moment and observe your breath. Let this process move from involuntary to conscious as you notice your breath. Allow it to slow and deepen. What does that feel like? How does that change your day? Could it change your life?
In this month of September, as summer starts to slip away into fall, we at A Woman’s Nest are finding ways to center ourselves, to quiet our minds, and to open ourselves to greater realization of our dreams. One wonderful and simple way to facilitate those actions is through breathing.
The ancient yogis recognized that we have a life force, or prana, that moves through us, and they developed many methods of removing tension in the body so that the prana can move more freely. When it does, we are enlivened, calmer, happier, and more creative. We are in the flow of spirit so we are freer to be ourselves.
Just the simple act of stopping and noticing the breath at times during the day can have a profound effect on stress levels. This is enough. However, if you want to learn the practice of yogic pranayama, which guides the breath so we can access our life force, there are many ways to go about it. I recommend, of course, that you find a qualified teacher to help with fundamentals. If you live in a small town, though, or are otherwise prevented from finding a teacher, books and CDs abound!
Richard Rosen is a fine teacher, and if you can afford his seven-CD set The Practice of Pranayama, it’s well worth it. He provides thorough and thoughtful instruction to various breathing techniques. Richard Freeman also has a single CD pranayama practice — I haven’t listened to it, but Freeman is a reliable teacher, so that could be an option for you if you just want a single CD.
For more experienced students, one of my favorites is Pranayama: The Kripalu Approach to Yogic Breathing by Michael Carroll. This is an intermediate practice, recommended more for students who are familiar with various pranayama techniques. This CD offers a full long practice, including a posture sequence to go with the breathing techniques. Practitioners can also pick and choose individual tracks for a shorter practice.
Some breathing techniques, such as Kapalabhati and Bastrika, are more strenuous and can create agitation. If you are doing any of these practices and start to get upset, they may be too vigorous as a place to start. Practice gentler techniques such as Nadi Shodhana, the alternate nostril breathing, or Dirgha, the yogic three-part breath. If you struggle at all, please seek out a teacher for help. Breathing should be a pleasurable experience.
Of course, you don’t have to practice complicated techniques just to stop for a moment, notice your breath, and allow it to deepen. Notice if your life gets easier and clearer over time. Enjoy! Breathe!