Yoga is my go-to tool when I need to de-stress or calm myself down. The poses satisfy my body’s simultaneous desires of wanting to move yet relax, and the conscious connection of my breath to the movements really helps to clear my mind. Only two simple things are needed to allow me to enjoy this scenario of peaceful solitude: My mat and my body (three if you count an open mind). Although, sometimes even just these two things are not possible to procure in a given setting.
However, the one element that I will always have with me is my body. As long as there is air to breathe, I am able to utilize solely the grace of my body to find tranquility no matter where I am. What is my method in doing this might you ask? Simply by bringing my consciousness primarily to my breath, using a form of breathing called Nadi Suddhi to help me do this.
Nadi Suddhi, also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing, is one of the principal breathing techniques of the collective yogic breathing practices known as pranayama. I will explain exactly what Nadi Suddhi is in my next post and give instruction for how to do it. First I want to lay the foundation of pranayama and give you an insight as to why these breathing practices are so beneficial.
“Prana” refers to the life force, the vital energy, that sustains us throughout life. Breathing allows us to take in a lot of prana, providing us with a source of life, energizing our physical, mental, and spiritual beings. One can live without food or water for a considerable period of time, but without prana or breath, one will perish almost immediately.
So pranayama works to fill our bodies with life, recharging every physical cell and mental cavity of our beings. There are three primary breathes that are associated with pranayama, and many others that diverge from these three foundations. To begin Nadi Suddhi of which I’ll speak of next time, one must first learn the 3-part breath. The 3-part breath helps to cultivate an awareness of our breathing and allows ourselves to deepen and expand the amount of oxygen we are able to take in. This awareness and deepening is essential for the next stage of Nadi Suddhi.
While the breathing techniques of pranayama can be done anywhere, it’s best to find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably when first establishing the foundation of the techniques.
The 3-part breathe is really quite simple. After finding a comfortable position, begin by exhaling fully through the nose. Then, as you inhale (through the nose), watch your breath as it flows into the abdomen, feeling the abdomen expand. Follow the breath to the rib cage, feeling the rib cage expand. Finally, draw the breath up to the collar bones, feeling the collar bones rise. Maybe take a brief pause. Then, as you exhale, slowly become aware of first the collar bones lowering, then the rib cage relaxing, and then finally, gently pull in the abdomen to empty the lungs as fully as possible. Continue this process, fully filling the lungs as you inhale, watching the oxygen travel up the front of the body, and releasing all the air as you exhale, pulling in the abdomen at the end to release any leftover stale air. Try to make the three parts of both the inhalation and exhalation flow one into the next.
As you learn this foundation, you may want to place your hand on the abdomen as you begin to inhale, then move it to the rib cage as the inhalation continues, and finally placing your fingertips on your collar bones, watching the expansion and lifting as you follow the breath. This may help to narrow your focus on the three parts, which will ultimately help you to draw in more oxygen. When done correctly, the deep 3-part breath allows us to take in seven times more oxygen than our normal shallow breathing.
I learned at Yogaville that our normal breath consists of approximately five hundred cubic centimeters. However, since we don’t typically breathe in fully or ever entirely release all the air, we lose a lot of space for prana. The 3-part breathe helps to expand the amount of prana we take in by pulling in the abdomen slightly in as we exhale, releasing the leftover sixteen hundred cubic centimeters of so of air that we typically keep held in our lungs. Then, as you take the next inhalation, first those sixteen hundred cubic centimeters are replaced, then the normal five hundred, and finally another sixteen hundred or so as you become aware of deepening the inhalation. In essence, this allows us to take in thirty-seven hundred cubic centimeters as opposed to five hundred.
This expansion of oxygen in our bodies helps to improve the quality of the blood, helping to enhance our metabolism, and filling our entire beings with vitality. Even more importantly however is the effects that pranayama have on the mind. By bringing one’s entire awareness to the breath, this leaves little room for other intruding, stress-inducing thoughts. Concentration on the breath allows one to become completely complacent with the present moment, really allowing oneself to enjoy the current moment in which they are living. This awareness helps one to build a sense of presentness, helping to eliminate all past and future thoughts that create worries and anxietites. To calm the mind is the primary reason to practice pranayama. As a result, one’s entire mental and physical health becomes enhanced.