Thursday, May 30, 2013

Breathing, with attention

image compliments of merchantcircle
As I wrote yesterday, I have actually been adding pranayama into my day.  Pranayama is conscious breathing - breath that increases the prana, or life force, or vital energy in the body.

I consider adding anything new to my routine to be a huge lift.  If that might be the case for you...

Here are some things that have helped me actually do this:

  1. Anywhere from two to ten minutes is all you need.  
  2. Experiencing the techniques and effects of different breath practices, combined with appropriate asana preparation, creates a solid foundation for taking pranayama "on the road".
  3. Practice, practice, and did I say practice some more?
  4. Whenever you do manage to affect your nervous system with a breath practice, make conscious, if not written, note of how you feel, and the fact that you created that shift.
  5. Try again.
Sometimes, at work, I look at the clock on my phone and give myself 2-3 minutes to gather and center, I try to close my eyes and be still, and know that just a little bit of stillness may have an effect on my day.  I usually choose to breathe in for two (counts) and out for three (counts).  I create little pauses at the "top" and "bottom" of the breath.  I sit with my eyes closed, facing inward at my cubicle.  I focus on chest expansion on inhale and gentle contraction of the low abdominal muscles on exhale.

I am lucky enough to have time to practice a full sequence that prepares me for 10-12 minutes of expansive pranayama in the middle of the day.  I do a brahmana breath practice, where I build to 10-8-10-0, that is,  10 seconds in, 8 seconds retain, 10 seconds exhale.  It leaves me feeling noticeably more calm and focused for my afternoon at work.  Asana is really a key preparation for the spine to allow the pranayama practice to sink deeper.  However, we don't always have time or space for preparation.  It does make a difference.  And, learning pranayama using asana sequences for preparation allows the knowledge of the effects created to sink more deeply into the mind and body.  

I think the hardest time to utilize these tools, is, unfortunately, when you need them most.  I can get worked up in a panic, or be very anxious concerning... well, it's usually a commitment I've made that was the straw that broke the camel's back!  This excessive spinning of the mind starts to release fight or flight hormones, as I feel somehow backed into a corner.


It can soothe the sympathetic response from the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and activate the parasympathetic "rest and digest" system.  Especially when we choose the appropriate breath practice - which in this case, is langhana, or reducing.  In general, lengthening exhale is a good choice.  However, no matter what breath practice you do, if you can get your attention from your head to the breath's affects on the spine, that's the key.

Practice, practice, practice, and notice the impact of pranayama when I'm feeling well enough to remember to use it!

Then, I hope to follow my own advice next time I work myself into a tizzy.  This is when I need the tools the most, and when it's hardest to reach for them.


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