Introduction to Yoga: Session 4
The Power of Intentional Breath
This session focused on the 4th arm of the 8 Limbed Yogic Path: Pranayama, or Intentional Breathing Practice.
Our breath is assured, as long as we are living, through the autonomic nervous system. However, once we begin to engage with breath through intention and with full presence, breathing becomes a tool that can support how we want to live our lives.
It may surprise you how you can practice different breathing exercises for different purposes. For example, did you know that just based on manipulating the simple number of beats in the inhale and the exhale holds the power to impact how you feel?
It may also surprise you to know, that despite this awesome power, there have until very recently been only 2 groups of the Western population that are taught how to breathe properly: pregnant women and patients in burn units. Wow, hey!
Until now. Now everyone who has access to a yoga class can be taught how to breathe beyond functionality, and towards nervous system self-regulation, pain management, and lifestyle and biomechanical support. Even very young children are being taught the power of breathing as young as 3 years old. And I know this because I am among those how choose to teach pranayama to everyone, including children.
Breathing well is particularly useful as support for the practice of meditation, and breathing well can also sustain a yoga practice, marking it with ease, vitality and joy.
The first step is awareness. Tap into how you breathe without efforting to change it. First, notice where breathe resides in your body. Where do you experience breath? Explore how the breath feels in your body, the effect of breath on the rest of your body, and how it influences your mind. Become your own authority on your breath. Attend to your own breath like an avid researcher with a huge grant!
Some people have reported feeling quite numb when first trying to discover where breath resides. If this is true for you, take heart, and take time… welcome the practice for it will deliver untold benefits over time.
I also find that the first step of awareness, of noticing the breath in the body will often incline one to begin to breathe more fully and deeply, as the body craves this more engaged and intentional breath.
In this 4th session, we reviewed the following pranayama or breathing practices:
The Resourceful Breath (or full diaphragmatic breathing)
Durgha or Three Part Breathing (filling and emptying the torso)
Ujjayi or Ocean Sounding Breathe (breathing slowly with a soft noise made through gently constricting the throat)
Embryonic Breathing (breathing in a fashion that is effortless, without tension and almost unseeable)
After a gentle practice of therapeutic sun salutations, and playing with Tree Pose, we ended our practice with Nodi Shodhna or Alternate Nostril Breathing. This is one of my favourite pranayama, and one that I dip into frequently.
Here is a short and easy to follow video to support your practice:
And here is an article that describes some of the benefits:
Personally, I find this breath especially useful when I want to feel a balanced state between relaxed and alert. It calms me deeply, but I remain awake, engaged and fully present.
Please take some time to practice different breathing practices until you find at least one that works well for you. You owe it to yourself to investigate one of the most vital activities of your machine: Breathing.
Here are a few resources for further exploration:
Session 4 Om-work:
Lay on the floor for 5 minutes every day. Magic. Gravity aligns your spine. Breathing is easy. Rest is implied and hopefully experienced. Relaxation makes it all delicious. Make it a family affair.