As I dive deeper into the practice of yoga it becomes even more and more apparent how important breath is over the physical postures. I love the physical postures because I love to be athletic and push my body but my practice didn't start to solidify until I understood the link between breathing and the body. I've always struggled with anxiety around breathing. I have shallow lung capacity and I keep all of my nerves in my chest. When I was younger it led to minor anxiety attacks where I would lose feeling in my hands and parts of my face, almost like everything was frozen for a few moments. Through yoga, I've liberated myself from those moments or I'm at least better equipped to deal with them now. When I took Doctor Parth's Pranayama class at COMO Parrot Cay I turned into a little sponge trying to mentally write down every piece of incredible wisdom that he gave us.
His story is incredibly interesting. He spent much of his childhood vacations and free time studying with monks in India. There, they taught him how to guard his energy, tap into fear through meditation and he learned a great deal of wisdom that has been carried along for centuries. He spoke in short but brilliant animal anecdotes. I used one of his anecdotes in meditation class yesterday actually because I loved it so much!
A panting dog lives a very short life, maybe 9 or 10 years. A sea turtle, who has incredible breath control taking in air and diving back down for long periods of time, can live for hundreds of years.
The point is, learning how to control the breath has incredible effects on the body and mind. Maybe it can prolong our lives but it's at least welcoming clarity, lessening anxiety and allowing air to move through the channels of the body properly. Here are a few of my favorite ways to explore breathing.
Channel your inner sea turtle. Sit comfortably either in lotus or just crossed-legged. Close the eyes gently. A great start is to inhale slowly counting to six, pause at the top of the inhale for 3 seconds (or half whatever time you inhaled for) and exhale for six. If this feels comfortable you can also hold the breath at the bottom of the exhale for 3. Most people feel more comfortable either on the inhale hold or the exhale hold. Do whatever works for you. If you have short lung capacity like me you can always lessen the numbers and inhale for 3, hold for 1.5, exhale for 3, etc. Setting a timer is helpful here or give yourself a goal of completing a certain number of rounds to start.
You can improve concentration by adding a mantra. My teacher taught me the mantra: Om ah hum. When you inhale repeat the word 'om' in your head, at the pause at the top say 'ah', on the exhale say 'hum' in your head. These words powerful roots in Sanskrit and there's so much to explore here about the vibration of the sounds. Some people find this mantra very powerful in meditation.
Alternative Nostril Breathing
This is one of my favorite ways to control breathing. Throughout the day we all have a pattern of which nostril air favors and it switches naturally. There are some links to explore on how right brain or left brained we are by noticing which side we favor most. This style of breathing helps to find a balance while also bringing a nice sense of calm. I do this before bed often to relax.
Hold the right hand out in front of you palms facing you. Close the pinky and ring finger leaving a C shape or claw with the remaining fingers. The thumb goes onto the right nostril, the pointer and middle finger rest on the left nostril. Start by closing the left nostril with your two fingers and exhaling out of the right side slowly. Breathe into the right nostril. On the next exhale switch the grip and exhale out of the left nostril (thumb is closing the right nostril now). Inhale into the left nostril, close the left and exhale out of the right. We always switch on the exhale. Repeat for a few rounds and finish with an exhale on the right side.
Doctor Parth taught me this in our private session. He put his finger right between my brows, maybe slightly a tad higher. He asked me to stare at his finger then close my eyes, keeping that gaze. He set a timer for two minutes and I was to sit comfortably in silence keeping that upward gaze. The time flew by. I really love this meditation style personally. My eyes strain and flutter a bit but he said it's ok to take breaks and then continue with the gaze. It's a wonderful way to stimulate concentration. We did only two minutes for sake of time but at home I will try to increase but be mindful if this strains too much, take it easy.
And lastly, I will borrow one more time from Doctor Parth. If you like the knowledge I have given you, thank my teacher. If you hate it, blame me, as I failed to properly pass along the knowledge.