Updated: Aug 1, 2019
'Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.' Thich Nhat Hanh
Breath is one of the most portable tools that we can gift to ourselves. It is the one practice that we can take with us, through every moment, every place, and every emotion.
It seems so simple, to just breathe, yet it can be one of life's biggest challenges. Our breath connects us to a much deeper part of ourselves that, in some cases, has been neglected for many years. It can take us our whole lives to reconnect with our breath and face whatever difficult emotion is underneath. To heal means to release emotional stress from our system and the first step is to recognise that it is there, by connecting to the power of our breath we are able to soften this process within our bodies. For as long as we live, we can use our breath to guide us to liberation and peace.
The breath is a beautiful and forgotten tool that can help us to reconnect to our happiness, our contentment and our freedom at any time of the day, month, or year.
The first time I practiced pranayama properly was in Kerala, Southern India. Times before this when teachers had tried to guide me through this powerful practice I had felt embarrassed, awkward, uncomfortable and really struggled to maintain the pace of the class. Breathing like a dog was enough to send me into fits of laughter and though an enjoyable experience, I felt little connection to the power of this practice.
In August 2017 the teachers at the School of Santhi guided our group through daily sessions of pranayama, meditation, lectures and asana in a safe, loving and stable environment. The seed was soon planted. After a few days of consistent practice I began feeling a sense of connection to my physical body and a clarity in my mind that I had never felt before. My meditations were deeper, my thinking was clearer, my connection to my inner sphere and my emotional body was enhanced to such a level that I felt completely overwhelmed. I felt safe from this breath; safe, energised, and at home.
The beautiful thing about this practice is that when your body recognizes how good it can feel, it won't let you revert back too far.
Creating stability through breath is absolutely necessary for us to relieve stress in this fast-paced modern world. Without that daily connection, it is very easy to get caught up in the mess of life with no tools to escape. In India, you have to practice asana (yogic postures) for over 12 years before pranayama is introduced. So take each breath slowly, make sure you are hydrated and comfortable, and stop or slow down if it feels like it's getting too much.
Below are 2 pranayam's that you can incorporate into your daily practice for energy release and balance:
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing):
Nadi means 'channel' or 'flow' in Sanskrit and Shodhana means 'purification'.
Nadi Shodhana is a very important and simple technique that you can add to your daily routine. You can alter the count as you deepen your practice making it applicable to both beginning and advanced practitioners.
Before you begin bring yourself to a comfortable seat with both sit bones equally on the floor. Relax your shoulders and draw the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Make sure your back is nice and straight and you aren't restricting your breath and take a few deep and conscious breaths into the belly.
We have over 72,000 subtle energy channels within our bodies that can get blocked for many different reasons. Some of these include:
- Mental or physical trauma
- Restriction of the breath/prana
- Unreleased emotions
- Eating a diet that is wrong for your body-type
- Toxicity from environmental pollutants/exposure to chemicals
Out of the 72,000 nadi's there are believed to be three main channels, referred to in ancient Indian texts as Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. Ida is located through the left side of our body, and can be accessed via the left nostril. This nadi is representative of the feminine, lunar, or yin energy that each individual has within their constitutions in varying amounts. Ida tends to our femininity, whether or not we are born as a female or male. The channel of Ida reaches the right hemisphere of our brain; the home of our intuition, creativity, and emotion.
Breathing through our left nostril activates Ida which triggers our parasympathetic nervous system, commonly referred to in the West as our 'Rest and Digest' response. This system allows our body to relax and sends signals to our brain that it is okay to slow down, the tension in our body softens and we are able to fully relax. This is also accessible through the lengthening of our exhalation.
Pingala is located in the right side of our body and representative of the masculine energies within us. The solar, rational, and yang energy that can be accessed when we breathe deeply and consciously through the right nostril. Breathing into this nostril sends oxygen to the left side hemisphere of our brain which is responsible for our rationality, logic, and reason.
Sushumna runs through the central channel of our bodies, from the pineal gland behind the centre of the eyebrows to the base of the spine where the sit bones connect to the earth. Sushumna is seen in many texts as the main channel as it is home to the 7 main energy centers in the body, more commonly known as chakra's.
Through Nadi Shodhana we can bring balance to each three channels.Using visualisations whilst practicing is also a great tool.
Ujayyi Breath (Ocean Wave Breath):
Don't worry if you lose focus, just return to the breath as often as you need to. Meditation isn't about perfection, it is about observation. Allow your body and your thoughts to wander and softly bring them back to the breath until the practice is finished.
Continue with these practices as often as you can, give yourself time and space to heal and be kind to yourself.