Harmonising the Breath
Have you noticed how often you hold your breath?
When squeezing past a table of people, we hold our breath.
When navigating a difficult pathway on our bike, we hold our breath.
When angry, we hold our breath.
When we are startled by a beautiful view or object, we hold our breath.
When we are doing something that requires our full attention and focus, we often momentarily hold our breath.
Total attention of our whole self .. draws all of our energy into the present moment.
As yogis have known for centuries (and medical science is now starting to discover) the breath has a direct correlation with activities of the mind. Pranayama (Sanskrit word meaning ‘extension of the prana or breath’) is a yogic discipline of controlling the breath which the yogis found could alter their state of mind.
Scientifically, by slowing and regulating the rhythm of the breath, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system, our bodies natural biological mechanism for soothing and calming.
The process of respiration includes inhalation and exhalation ~ and when we are relaxed and at ease, between these two points of reference, our breath naturally stops moving for just a moment. This is often referred to as the ‘gap’ or ‘pause’ and in meditation provides us with the deepest point of stillness and peacefulness in our practice.
So each breath cycle when watched mindfully, is found to really has four parts – inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause – and unless we are deeply relaxed or consciously observing the pause, we often don’t register that they are there.
Kumbhaka is a deep form of breath exercise that draws our attention to the PAUSE that arises at the cessation of the breath, momentarily at the end of the inhalation and exhalation. This resting of the breath is said to regulate the racing and overactive qualities of the mind, leading to a sacred state of clarity and increased concentration.
We can have a surprisingly positive influence on our mood and energy level by watching our breath for a few minutes, however, when talking about breath exercises – these should always be done gently, with no pushing or overdoing, and start with just a few rounds of breath. We should slowly cultivate this type of practice over many days or weeks. Never force your breath to do anything that feels uncomfortable – this is vital – if you feel anxious or unsettled just return to your natural breath.
Suspended Breath Exercise
1. Find a posture of comfort, in a chair or relaxed on a cushion. A posture that allows you to feel relaxed and safe, and where you are not going to be disturbed for a few minutes
2. Gently close your eyes and allow a few moments for your body and mind to naturally slow down. Notice how your breath shifts and changes .. what do you notice right now .. is the breath fast, slow, agitated, relaxed? Just notice
3. Then, when you are feeling comfortable and at ease, on your next inhalation .. breathe into the silent count of four (1-2-3-4)
4. And then gently hold your breath for the count of four (1-2-3-4) allowing this pause to be a quiet place of rest
5. Then release the breath, exhaling to the count of four (1-2-3-4)
6. And again, hold your breath for the count of four (1,2,3,4) .. aware of being gently, and consciously, at ease
7. Continue with this version of breathing for a couple of breaths, observing how the breath feels at each stage – inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause
8. And slowly return to your normal pattern of breathing, observing how perhaps your breath has rounded and softened a little.
To finish: smile and move forward with your day feeling a little lighter and fresher of mind and breath.
Ahh .. the power for the breath!
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