The breath of life

‘One breath, one movement’ – this was the advice a yoga instructor shared during one of the classes. Sounds easy again, but it is tough.

How many of us forget to breathe when we twist and get our body into an awkward pose? How many of us hold our breath when sitting in front of our computers? And how many of us allow our breaths to race ahead of us before making a speech or taking a major exam?

Breathing rightly, taking the time to savour each inhalation, and mindfully channelling this life force throughout your physical body, is key to better appreciating life. Pranayama, as it is commonly referred to in yoga, is the intricate connection between breath, life and energy. Different pranayama exercises help us face different situations in life and I highlight a few here.

Anuloma Viloma, or alternate nostril breathing, is a basic pranayama to help regulate and bring attention to the breath again. At times where we feel that our breath has become shallow, by bringing attention to how the breath flows into our right nostril and out from the left, and back in from the left nostril and out from the right, can help restore a bit of order. Just experiencing how the breath flows into your lungs, and how your chest rises and falls as a result can be quite therapeutic. For starters, start with even counts in and out of each nostril.

Nadi Shodana is another alternate nostril breathing technique. It is similar to Anuloma Viloma, only with the additional element of breath retention. The importance of breath retention allows our lungs to fully absorb the benefits of that breath, and gives our mind a chance to appreciate the beauty of the stillness, easily leading you into meditation. Beginners should start with an inhalation-retention-exhalation ratio of 1:2:2. Advanced practitioners can increase the multiple of the retention, but always keep exhalation twice as long as inhalation.

A third technique, Ujjayi, is most commonly performed during Asana practice. Ujjayi means victorious as the breath stays high up in the chest rather than down the belly. Due to the vibrations caused by the constriction of the epiglottis, the breath is heated entering the body and helps prepare the body for physical activities. The wave-like sound produced during the breath also helps set a nice tempo during practice, deciding for you how fast or slow each Asana should be.

A more intense pranayama known as Bastrika helps to fan the flame of the abdomen. Breath is forcefully inhaled and exhaled via the nostrils into the upper chest. If you are feeling sluggish in the stomach and need to expel toxins out of your abdomen, Bastrika is a good choice. A few rounds of Bastrika refreshes and clears the mind and body for the day ahead.

And if you are constantly feeling angry and emotional, give the humming bee breath, or Brahmari, a try. Because a humming bee sound is produced when breathing in and out, it automatically calms and relaxes the mind to focus on the sound, and not your emotions. This rhythmic symphony of our breath instantly gives us a better sense of well being.

So remember – breathe right, live well.