Pranayama is one of the eight limbs (or parts) of yoga. Pranayama is more than just breathing exercises; it is the process of controlling and manipulating the flow of breath to maintain a healthy state of body and mind. It is considered to be the preparation for meditation practices.
When the body is stressed the breath tends to be shallow and short. Slowing the breathing and taking fuller inhalations and exhalations has many benefits.
- Delivers more oxygen rich blood to the muscles and the brain
- Induces relaxation
- Relieves stress and anxiety
- Cleanses the lungs and airways
The breath is also the transport system for energy (prana) around the body.
Full Yogic breath or Ujjayi breath is the breath we most commonly use during our asana practice (physical postures). Lately during our practice we have been practicing alternate nostril breathing – Nadi Shodana
Why practice alternate nostril breathing?
‘Nadi’ means energy channels and ‘shodana’ means purification or balance. The practice of Nadi Shodana lowers stress levels and improves concentration as well as balancing right and left-brain activity.
Left Brain activity – Linear thinking. Stimulation of adrenalin releasing sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight reactions) and used for the following types of tasks:
- Analytical and logical processing
Right brain activity – Holistic thinking (getting the complete picture)
Stimulation of the calming parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest reactions) and associate with:
- Expressing emotions
- Creativity and expressive tasks
It is generally thought that left-brain thinking – constantly doing and not ‘just being’ dominate most individuals in the western world. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying ‘just be here now’. It can be very difficult to achieve this as we’re constantly planning for future events and not just living in the moment. With lots of pressure on us to be successful, meet deadlines and complete ‘things to do’ we don’t leave much time for just being. By engaging more with the right brain, we can induce a sense of calm, stilling to the mind and ultimately achieving better health.
Seated in an easy cross leg position with a long straight spine. Use a block or cushion to sit on for comfort.
Rest hands on the knees in Chin Mudra. Close your eyes and practice yogic breathing – inhaling and exhaling through the nose gradually lengthening the breath, but not forcing.
Stage 2 – Alternate nostril breathing
Right hand Nasagra Mudra. Close off the right nostril with the thumb and inhale and exhale through the left nostril for 5 long breaths (count to 3) observing the breath. Now close the left nostril with the ring finger and repeat the breath through the right nostril. The right nostril is associated to the left brain activity and the left nostril is associated to the right brain activity. Observe any difference in the flow of breath in the left and right nostril. This is one round.
Practice the above until the breath is steady – not forced.
Start by closing the right nostril, inhaling steadily through the left nostril for 3-5 slow counts.
Close the left nostril and exhale through the right for the same length.
Close right – exhale left
Close left – exhale right.
Close right – exhale left
Repeat for 10 rounds. You can gradually lengthen the breath when it feels comfortable. Finish by breathing normally for 5 breath. This practice is calm the mind and relieve stress.