In honour of the breath, your constant companion, your guide, your best friend. She is right there with you – if you listen, she will tell you so much about yourself, your emotions, your mind-states: she gets hot and fiery when you feel angry, calm and deep when you relax, light and fast when you are anxious, shallow and soft when you are in deep meditation… she is not afraid to follow you to all the places you go.
The breath taps you deep into your nervous system and your emotional state, and it’s the only visceral function of the body that is both autonomic and can be voluntarily regulated. The breath is a constant, present tool to guide your focus and awareness into your body and into the now. Which is why the breath is such a powerful tool.
Pranayama, or breathwork, is one of the ‘eight limbs’ of classical yoga, and more and more people (and science!) are awakening to the power of the breath. By becoming aware of and consciously regulating the breath in different ways, we are able to create significant changes in the nervous system, reduce stress and anxiety, purify the subtle energy channels in our body, increase our prana or life force, shift emotional and mental states, and prepare the body-mind for meditation. But because the breath is so powerful, like any relationship: get to know your breath first and develop a solid friendship with its natural character, before starting to explore uncharted territory…
Here is a simple practice to awaken you to the power of your breath:
1. Take a comfortable seat either on the floor or in a chair, where you can sit easefully for about 10 minutes. Take a moment to notice how you feel in your body, your mind, your emotions. Allow your body to rest into your seat, but lengthen your spine and feel the crown of your head reaching gently towards the sky. Feel into the space in the upper body created by this lift of the spine.
2. Find your natural breath, very simply observing the breath as it moves into the body, and as it moves out of the body. Do not try to change the breath, do not make any effort, simply observe your in-breath and your out-breath, accepting your breath exactly as it is. You might also start to notice where the breath touches the inner space of your body. Do this for 1-2 minutes.
3. Invite the breath to gently deepen. Like a somanaut exploring inner space, invite your breath to explore the full inner space of your body. Where can the breath go? How does it feel as it moves into previously uncharted territory?
4. With your deepened breath, start to work with a count: inhale to a count of 4, exhale to a count of 4. Remember to keep the practice comfortable, make sure you are not straining or struggling with your breath. This is not about how long and deep you can make the breath, but finding an evenness between your inhalation and exhalation. This is called Sama Vritti Pranayama (equal ratio breath). Do this for 2-3 minutes.
5. Let go of the count and come back to your natural, effortless breath. Observe now the quality of your natural breath. Is it fast, slow, calm, ragged, even? Where does it touch inside the body? How do you feel in your body, your mind, your emotions?
6. Thank your breath, seal the practice any way you wish, and as you continue with your day – remember to touch base with your new friend from time to time to see how she’s going!