Pranayama, or breath practice, is a powerful tool with many benefits that is often overlooked in westernised yoga practice. The breath is a bridge between body and mind, and between the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. You don’t have to remind yourself to blink, salivate, dilate or constrict your pupils, keep your heart beating, or breathe, it just happens…it is controlled by your autonomic nervous system and adjusted according to which life situation (stressful or relaxing) you are facing. Yet, the breath can also be controlled by your will. By changing your breath pattern, you can affect the body and mind. At the end of this post, find a 25-Minute guided Pranayama practice for a calm mind.
USE PRANAYAMA TO CALM THE MIND
The autonomic nervous system is always active, either in a sympathetic or parasympathetic mode. The sympathetic mode is activated during a ”fight or flight” situation, when mental stress or physical danger is present. On the flip side, the parasympathetic mode is activated during times of reduced stress, and allows the body to ”rest and digest”.
Our breath changes depending on which part of the autonomic nervous system is active. And, vice versa, we can also affect the autonomic nervous system by changing our breath pattern. Changing the pace and length of inhalation and exhalation and adjusting the pauses between the two, can help calm stress-related disorders, and increase our focus.
Some breath techniques are calming, while others are stimulating. The ancient yogis learned this by intuition and experimentation. They called this practice Pranayama (”techniques to extend our life force”), and Patanjali included it as one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
BENEFITS OF PRANAYAMA
According to yogic belief, Prana (universal vital energy) is the driving force of the universe and all bodily functions. Blockages of this flow is said to cause illness, and being able to balance the flow can give us the power to balance and heal the body. Pranayama is the primary yoga technique to adjust the flow of Prana.
Modern science is just catching up to the understandings of how using the breath can help calm the mind in a world of constant impressions. Some of the additional benefits of Pranayama include:
- Decrease stress
- Improve sleep quality
- Increase mindfulness
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Improve lung function
- Enhance cognitive performance
- Reduce addictive cravings, particularly related to smoking
If you haven’t practiced Pranayama before, find a teacher to guide you! Join Yandara founder, Christopher Perkins, in the video below for a calming 25-Minute Pranayama practice.
We teach basic Pranayama techniques in all our 200hr teacher training programs, and in the 300hr advanced program we go deeper into the breath. We also offer an advanced 100hr module called Breath & Meditation a few times a year in Baja and Sweden.
Nicolina Sandstedt, Yandara Lead Trainer
Nicolina Sandstedt, Yandara Lead Trainer
In 2022, the fall equinox arrives on September 22. This marks the start of the colourful, cozy fall in the Northern Hemisphere – a perfect time to practice yoga at home. With this post, I would like to offer three simple and nourishing yoga home practices to incorporate into your routine this fall.
On the equinox, day and night are roughly equal in length. After the equinox, days become shorter as the sun continues to rise later and the night falls earlier. This trajectory ends with the winter solstice, after which days start to grow longer once again. With the change in the amount of daylight, the leaves start to shift from green to yellow, orange and red, creating the vibrant sunset of the seasons.
Ayurveda and seasonal balance
This shift has been of importance throughout the ages. In Mexico, the Mayans built a giant pyramid called Chichen Itza and on the equinoxes, it looks as if a snake made of light slithers down the pyramid’s steps. And in England, Stonehenge was built with the equinoxes and solstices in mind. In India, the traditional medicine Ayurveda is built around living in harmony with nature and the seasons. According to Ayurveda, autumn brings with it a predominance of Vata dosha and the air element. It harbors a certain mix of emptiness and movement that can leave us feeling a little lost, but it is also a time filled with possibility—a time when we can return to the quiet essence of being through nourishing yoga and meditation practice.
Balancing the shifting of the seasons with certain lifestyle choices is an Ayurvedic way to support our well-being. Considering the Ayurvedic principle that ‘like increases like and opposites balance’, the airy vata season will be less unsettling if filled with warmth, deep nourishment, time with loved ones, and a sense of stability and routine – such as consistent yoga home practice.
Three Yoga Home Practices
As yoga practitioners, we have many tools to help create stability and balance. Vata is easily aggravated by fast, mobile activities, so let’s consider a gentle, warming, grounding and strengthening yoga home practice to find balance in the fall season. Here follows 3 simple yoga routines to incorporate this season. Warm up slowly, include gentle joint mobility, and aim to keep your breath deep and fluid. *Tip: Draw these routines with stick figures and keep them in your note book.
1. Autumn Sun Salutations
Start with gentle warm up of the spine and joints, such as wrist circles, shoulder rolls, neck rolls, cat/cow, standing pelvic rolls and large, standing arm sweeps with deep breathing.
Consider the soft warm glow of the autumn sun all around you as you transition into practicing sun salutations. Move slower and breathe deeper than you do normally. Ujjayi breath will help create warmth, stability, and rhythm. Practice 6-12 rounds of any sun salutation of your choice (find a sample video of Yandara Teacher, Sarasvati, practicing a Sun Salutation on the Yandara beach here).
End your movement routine with gentle hip openers on the floor, such as ‘eye of the needle’ or ‘bound angle pose’. Finally, take a few minutes of rest in Savasana, inhale a warm glowing light, exhale feel heavier with each breath.
2. Stabilizing Mini-Vinyasa Practice
Start with gentle warm up of wrists, shoulders and neck. Come to all fours for 2 minutes of cat/cow. Then, inhale into ‘cow pose’ and exhale into child’s pose for 2 minutes. Move onto shifting between ‘cow pose’ on the inhalation and ‘downward dog’ on the exhalation, 2 minutes. Then, shift between downward dog (inhale) and plank pose (exhale) for 1 minute, followed by holding plank pose with a stable core for 1 minute. Lay down flat on your belly, hands under the shoulders, press the top of the feet and front of the pelvis into the earth. Inhale into cobra pose by sending the heart forward and up as the shoulders draw back and down, exhale as you lower back down, repeat 10 times. Come to child’s pose. Inhale, stand up on your knees, sweeping the arms to the sky, exhale return to child’s pose, placing the hands onto of the sacrum/back of hips, repeat for 1 minute. Lay on your back, knees bent, feet hip width apart. Inhale, lift the pelvis and sweep the arms over head, exhale lower back down to the floor, 1 minute. Stay in bridge pose with the hands interlaced underneath you, 1 minute. Exhale return to the floor, let the knees fall from side to side for gentle spinal rotations, 1 minute, and then hug the knees to the chest, 2 minutes.
Take a few minutes of rest in Savasana, inhale a warm glowing light, exhale feel the earth beneath you.
3. Grounding Evening Practice
Start with gentle warm up of wrists, ankles, shoulders and neck. Then sit cross legged, one hand on each knee, sit tall, then circle the heart slowly around an imagined golden pillar, clockwise for 1 minute, and then counter-clockwise for 1 minute. Come to lay on your back with the legs up the wall, option to place a cushion or a stack of blankets under the hips, stay for 5 minutes.
Slowly make your way to a comfortable seated position to begin Nadi Shodhana/Alternate Nostril Breathing. Start by taking a few rounds of deep, conscious breaths. Fold the tips of the peace fingers into the palm (Vishnu mudra). Alternately use the right thumb to close the right nostril, and the right ring finger to close the left nostril. Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale through the left nostril, deep into the belly. As you inhale, feel or see the breath traveling upward, filling the left side of the body. Pause briefly at the crown of the head. Exhale through the right nostril, feeling the breath emptying the right side of the body. Pause gently at the bottom of the exhalation, focusing the lower belly. Inhale once again through the right nostril, and exhale through the left. Continue the same pattern, pausing gently between the two parts of the breath, for 5-15 minutes. Nadi shodhana clears and purifies our subtle channels, while bringing balance to the mind-body system as a whole. When you are ready to close your practice, complete the final round of nadi shodhana with an exhalation through the left nostril. Relax the hands in your lap and take several rounds of deep, conscious breaths. Then, allow the breath to return to normal and quietly observe the effects of the practice.
““Nadi Shodhana clears and purifies our subtle channels, while bringing balance to the mind-body system as a whole.”
If you are looking to find confidence in practicing yoga at home, our 200hr YTT programs also focus on the importance of a yoga self-practice. And if you are a teacher and interested in deepening your practice, we have many advanced 300hr-level programs to support you on your path.
What is your favourite practice this season? Please share below.