Breathing in, I calm the body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.
I love this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh. If you asked me why, I’d tell you that’s all because lately, the science of breathing has taken over my life. Quite literally.
For the past 25 odd days, I’ve been on a break from active blogging and most of social media to devote time exclusively for reclaiming my health. For the most part, it has meant getting more deeply involved with yoga and breathing exercises, and meditation. During this time, I’ve experienced a sense of calm and energy, in a way that has never happened before.
We all know that breath is essential to life. It is the first thing we do when we are born into this world and the last thing we do when we leave. And, even though we know that in between that time, we take about half a billion breaths, we often fail to realize the extent to which the mind, body, and breath are intimately connected and how they influence each other.
Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts and physiology can be influenced by our breath.
I have been already into yoga and meditation for almost a year, but somewhere along the way, I felt I was not getting the optimal benefits that I was so actively seeking out of the whole exercise. Over the past few months, our son, A has been falling ill rather too frequently, which has thrown me into a tizzy, with apprehensions and worries with regard to how his immunity has been compromised and how his body is struggling to fight infections, as a consequence. What was making things worse was the way I was dealing with stress and the regular everyday pressures of life, always multi-tasking and juggling far too many things than I could handle. During my yoga sessions every morning, I’d find that my breathing would often be shallow and rapid, and there was a certain shortness of breath – a typical fallout of the feelings of anxiety or frustration. All I was getting was an adrenaline rush, that was raising my blood pressure and pulse rate, revving me up to a state of high alert.
I knew instinctively that I had to do something about this. My first step was to cut myself off from daily distractions and focus instead on practicing deep breathing daily, not just for the mandatory 30 minutes a day but twice a day. Taking an hour aside every morning to focus on oneself was not easy but one had to do it. That meant dropping most of the things that were usually high on my priority list, for the time being.
Now, when I look back, it was perhaps the best decision ever. I cannot stress enough how beneficial deep breathing proved in helping me to diffuse all that turbulence. Consequently, there was less reactivity on the emotional levels. Fitness and mobility were no doubt enhanced, but something interesting happened to me during these yoga sessions that I think I must share with you. Every day, I found myself slipping into a trance-like state while being immersed in the deep breathing exercises, particularly towards the end. To my surprise, it was happening rather effortlessly – something that made me look forward to these sessions rather eagerly. This surge of sheer bliss and happiness came from the sense of calm, staying with me through the course of the day, filling me with energy, a new-found vigour and positivity, far beyond what I’ve ever experienced earlier.
Today, I’m happy to share a few rhythmic deep breathing techniques, that are simple to practice daily and leave some very positive and lasting effects on the mind and body.
If you haven’t done already, try these two breathing exercises, every morning for 5 minutes initially, then gradually increasing to 10 mins. It is preferable that you do these on an empty stomach. Sit with your spine and neck erect, back straightened, in a well-ventilated room. Ensure there are no disturbances around. Switch off your phone or keep it on mute. Bring a pleasant smile to your face, relax your facial muscles, gently close your eyes and take five deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly, (to the count of 10 respectively).
‘Nadi Shuddhi’ is very effective when you are feeling anxious, and helps by inducing a sense of calm immediately. To do it:
- Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
- At the peak of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your fourth finger, lift your right thumb, and then exhale smoothly through your right nostril.
- After a full exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb at the peak of your inhalation, lift your fourth finger and exhale smoothly through your left nostril.
- Continue with this practice for 3 to 5 minutes, alternating your breathing through each nostril. Your breathing should be effortless, with your mind gently observing the flowing in and out of your breath.
If, on the other hand, you feel angry, irritated, or frustrated, a cooling pranayama such as ‘Ujjayi‘ will immediately soothe and settle your mind. To do this-
- Inhale slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this correctly, you should sound like waves on the ocean.
- Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open. Now make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages.
- The hissing sound, called ‘ajapa mantra’ (the ‘unspoken mantra’), serves three purposes: it helps to slow the breath down, to focus awareness on the breath and prevent the mind from wandering, and to regulate, by monitoring and adjusting the evenness of the sound, the smooth flow of breath.
Breathing regulates the thoughts which regulates the mind and brings us the sense of calm that we seek, when stress takes over our lives.
My take from the pranayama sessions is this: When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind, too, will be still. My instructor always advises me to keep breathing deeply, always through the nose. She insists that I listen to its whisper, be aware of its’s texture and temperature. And, anyone who practices these daily will vouch for the fact that deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving your health and well-being.
In fact for a start, just try performing one of these breath techniques twice daily for only three to five minutes and see how you gain long-term benefits for both the mind and the body. And, if you do, do share your experiences. 🙂
Are you also into yoga, pranayama or meditation every day? Or perhaps something similar that you practice every day, which you’d like to share here? I’d love to hear from you if you’re willing to share the key benefits that you’ve gained from practicing these.
(Linking this with #mondaymusings.)