There's too much going on. Work. Home. Friends. Family. Sometimes it feels like I can barely fit everything I need and want to do on the list in my head, let alone in my life. This is how I cope.
I’ve been far too caught up in things lately. Everything feels way too serious.
From cruise ships destroying the planet to Native Americans massacred, my poor brain is overwhelmed. It’s been weeks since I joked around about joining the gym here in Salta, and my life feels very much all business.
This has lead me to one very important conclusion.
Honey, It's Time To Lighten Up
This is what I do when it’s time to relax but my brain is having a hard letting go. I take a deep breath. Not just any breath. Yogic breath. It's said to heal everything from asthma to anxiety to depression. Yep, just a breath.
The basics of yogic breathing, also called pranayama, are relatively simple. You bring in fresh, oxygenated air, breath out old, flat air. Every organ benefits. Deep breathing also helps you relax, reduce stress and even helps you live longer.
This video shows a qigong pranayama method for reducing allergies and asthma with, you guessed it, breathing.
Two Breaths To Ease the Mind
While I myself haven't tried the qigong breath above, I have incorporated many types of breathing into my daily yoga and meditation practice. The two I'm about to describe are my favorite for clearing the mind and learning how to relax again.
I learned these years ago from Jerry Scarnato, one of my favorite yoga teachers from the now no-longer-extant Energy Center in Brooklyn. Jerry is an amazing man. He’s a firefighter and one of the first on the scene during 9/11. He taught yoga and relaxation techniques to other firefighters, including these two types of breath.
Breath of Fire Or Kapalabati Breathing
Another name for this is bellows breath, because, well, try it once and you’ll immediately understand. This breath warms you and has been known to give an intense abdominal workout, particularly if you’re not used to it.
You begin by
breathing in and out, slowly and deeply. Filling your lungs with new air and
expelling as much of the old as you can. Then when you’re ready, begin rapidly exhaling through the nose. Focus on contracting your abdomen with your out-breath. The in-breath will happen naturally.
After a set of about 50 breaths – you decide how many based on your comfort level – slow the breath down like a train coming into the station. Clean out your lungs again with a few full deep slow breaths until you finally hold gently at the top of the breath. Hold for 30 seconds to begin then work up to see if you can hold for two minutes or longer.
Repeat the succession of rapid breathing, then holding three times altogether.
Alternate Nostril Breathing or Anuloma Viloma
Breath of Fire is intended to break up all the dirt in your body – metaphorically speaking. For this reason, kapalabati is also called skull shining breath. The force and fire of the breath burns through all the little bits of grime that get in your way, then you simply breathe them out your body.
Alternate Nostril breath restores order, rebalances everything after being shaken by fire.
Sit comfortably cross legged wherever you want to sit. Now take your right hand and take the two fingers directly beside the thumb and fold them inward. Place your pinky and ring finger by your left nostril, closing off the air passage. Your thumb goes to your right, but don’t close that side yet.
Breathe gently into your right nostril for a count of five, close it off with your thumb. Hold to a count of ten. Release your pinky and ring fingers on the left side and breathe out gently for a count of 5. Then breathe in the left for a count of five. Hold for ten. Breathe out the right for a count of five.
Repeat this 10-20 times.
The key here is that your breath move easily and quietly. If you find yourself struggling to finish the count or running out of breath, take a shorter count. The only rhythm you want to maintain is to hold the breath twice the count of your in and out.
All the numbers I mention here are entirely negotiable.
You decide how long you want to hold your breath, how long to draw it in and how many repetitions. You'll decide based on your own comfort and ability. Literally, your body and breath will tell you if you want more or less.
Another Reason Why This Works
As you practice this breathing, you’ll notice something. It’s almost impossible to think of anything other than the breath. You can’t really worry about what’s to come or what was. You don’t plan ahead and you don’t fall behind. You just sit there, focusing on your breath.
Afterward, just imagine you return to your life with a shiny, clean head – metaphorically speaking, of course.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: Check out another description of how to perform these two breaths along with more information about yogic breathing. It's also important to keep in mind that kapalabati is contraindicated with certain conditions such as pregnancy, menstruation, high blood pressure and any abdominal surgery. Remember, you're working your abdomen strongly. If you have any doubt, check with your doctor or a local yogi you trust.