Back to basics

Has it really been more than five months since my last post?

Whether anyone missed me in this space or not will remain in question, but I can confirm now that the year’s start has been busy and full—and my personal practice, even being a bit patchy from time to time has definitely sustained me.

I’ve been teaching “karma” yoga classes (free) at a local studio about once a month and I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to hone my teaching skills at this pace, even amid being too busy in my marketing and communications job to commit to regular teaching. (I’m not doing yoga, or teaching, for the money.)

But really, Ive been feeling more of a need to get back to the basics myself—which is why the pranayama workshop I was able to attend recently by Codie Williams of Munay Yoga and Wellness, held at that same local studio, was so perfect.

Pranayama is the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises, one of eight limbs of yoga, as mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Prana, the Sanskrit word for breath, “life force,” or “vital principle” is said to permeate reality on all levels including inanimate objects. I particularly enjoy holding the idea of prana or breath as life force—so essential and primal.

A pranayama cycle has three phases:

  • Puraka — inhalation
  • Kumbhaka — retention
  • Rechaka — exhalation

There are a variety of different techniques that are meant to do different things and this workshop gave a toe dip overview that provided me with a good enough repetoire to help me through trying experiences I’ve had recently.

Five pranayama breathing exercises for yoga beginners include:

  • Ujjayi Ocean Breath or Victorious Breath
  • KapalabhatiSkull Shining Breath
  • SimhasanaLion’s Breath
  • Sama VrittiEqual Breath, also known as Box Breathing
  • Nadi ShodhanaAlternate Nostril Breath

Ujjayi breath, often referred to as Ocean Breath or Victorious Breath, is a technique commonly used in yoga practices. It involves breathing deeply through the nose with a slight constriction in the throat, creating a soft, hissing sound reminiscent of ocean waves. This controlled, rhythmic breath helps to calm the mind, increase focus, and enhance the flow of energy throughout the body, making it ideal for both meditation and dynamic yoga sequences.

Kapalabhati, or Skull Shining Breath, is a powerful breathing technique that combines rhythmic breathing with a focus on forceful exhalations through the nose, followed by passive inhalations. This practice helps to purify the respiratory system, invigorate the mind, and increase overall energy levels. It is also known for its ability to stimulate the digestive system and improve mental clarity, making it a popular choice for energizing the body and mind.

Simhasana, or Lion’s Breath, is a dynamic and expressive breathing technique that involves inhaling deeply through the nose and then exhaling forcefully through the mouth while sticking out the tongue and making a roaring sound. This practice is designed to relieve tension, reduce stress, and improve circulation. By engaging the face, throat, and upper chest muscles, Lion’s Breath can help to release pent-up emotions and promote a sense of relaxation and freedom.

Sama Vritti
Sama Vritti, also known as Equal Breath or Box Breathing, is a calming technique that involves inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, and holding again for equal lengths of time. Typically, each phase lasts for a count of four. This balanced approach to breathing helps to harmonize the body and mind, reduce stress, and enhance concentration. It’s a simple yet effective practice for achieving a state of relaxation and mental clarity.

Nadi Shodhana
Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breath, is a balancing technique that involves alternating the breath between the left and right nostrils. This practice is believed to cleanse the nadis, or energy channels, in the body, promoting overall well-being and inner harmony. By calming the nervous system and balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain, Nadi Shodhana helps to reduce stress, enhance focus, and cultivate a deep sense of tranquility.

Indeed there are many techniques and reference resources for breathwork, which seems to be rising in awareness among many communities, not only through yoga.

This post is basically me bearing witness to the power of breathwork.

My favorite is box breathing, and I do my own variation that’s actually not equal, so maybe it’s more of an obtuse triangle. Inhaling for four, holding for four and exhaling for eight. I also like Huberman’s physiological sigh. It’s basically a long inhale, and one more short inhale to really fill up, then exhale allowing the breath to release without forcing.

Variations on these have helped me in traffic (it’s not so much the traffic, it’s the futility of why I find myself in traffic) and, more seriously, during middle of the night bouts of insomnia and mini anxiety attack days that are hanging on, even as I’m starting to get control over my hormones.

With breathwork in my self-care toolbox, I can better overcome obstacles to peace that may arise and just feel better.

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