The Basics of Pranayama
Pranayama is one of my favorite ways to balance my energy and clear my mind! It's also an excellent way to prepare the mind for meditation. I typically practice pranayama at night before meditating in bed. I also like to practice pranayama in the morning to help wake up my body and make sure it's on the right track for the rest of the day. This can also be done throughout your day when needed.
So what is Pranayama? It is the formal practice of controlling the breath through various exercises. Being able to breathe with awareness is a big healing tool and really helps to restore balance in both the mind and the body.
For me, when left unchecked, I tend to fall into a stressed or anxious pattern. My thoughts begin to rush in and out of my head faster than I can process them. I tend to slightly constrict my throat and usually breathe in a shallow manner. I've found that through various breathing exercises, I'm able to break free from these habits and restore balance to my body. I can actually relax and breathe deeply again.
Deep, focused breathing helps to slow down your heart rate and therefore relax the rest of your body and mind. Pranayama also forces you to breathe with intention and therefore engage the diaphragm rather that just the neck and throat muscles. The conditioning of your diaphragm helps to train your body to breathe this way more often, and hopefully get more out of your breath day-to-day.
Get set up for Pranayama in the same way you'd get set up for your meditation practice; usually a seated position with an upright spine that allows you to really focus in on the sensations of your breath. Supta Baddha Konasana can be a great option as well (lay down on your back and butterfly the legs; souls of the feet touch, knees wide) with one hand on the heart, one hand on the belly.
I'll include different versions of pranayama in later posts, but for now a great basic exercise to try is Sama Vritti, which means "even parts". Begin by exhaling everything out of your lungs. Then inhale evenly for 6 counts. Hold the breath at the top for 6 counts. Then exhale evenly for 6 counts. Hold the breath at the bottom for 6 counts. Continue this breath for as long as you'd like - I usually do anywhere from 5-10 minutes, depending on how much time I have. Be sure to breathe through your nose and keep the lips sealed. If you'd like a different breath count (maybe lengthen to 8 or 10 counts) then go for it! Do whatever feels best for your body.
Sama Vritti, specifically, is a great first pranayama as it is quite simple and helps bring attention to the breath and focus to the mind. This is especially helpful if you were doing something active just before sitting down to breathe. Usually when I sit down for pranayama this is the breath I start with, and if I have time I move on to other breath types or meditation.
Go ahead and try out some pranayama! Feel free to post your experience in the comments section.