Within the practice of Hatha and Ahstanga yoga lies Pranayama. This is the part of the yoga practice that uses our breath. This practice can be as simple as watching your own breathing and different aspects of the breath, or much more complex as creating different lengths of inhales and/or exhales and creating pauses within a breath cycle as well. The beauty with this practice is how powerful it is, even in it’s most simplest of variations. And I always recommend to stay way simple so not to create tension and holdings in our body. After all, all parts of the yoga practice are tools to help us create the opposite, relaxation and ease in our whole being.
You can observe your breath at any time. It’s always with you! And at the base of all breath exercises lie observation of what is. Being curious about your own breathing. Realizing that our breath is directly connected to how we feel emotionally, and the other way around. So if you are at all curious, pause wherever you are, standing, seated or lying down. Gently bring your own awareness to the breath. Think that you are putting your awareness onto your breath as gently as a butterfly sits down on a flower, so to not disturb your breath as little as possible. Now watch. Yes, it’s that simple. Watch and feel the flow of your own breath. Ask yourself what parts of your physical body are moving due to the breath. And feel the parts that don’t move. Then ask yourself if there is a difference in length between the inhale and the exhale. or perhaps they are even? Take your time. Watch several breaths for each of these questions. The third question I like to ask is if there are any natural pauses within one cycle of breath? A cycle of breath being from the beginning of an inhale to just before the beginning of your next inhale. If there are any pauses, simply feel them. A pause in your natural breath is the most quiet time within you at any time. When there is no breath. Then I want you to ask yourself one more question. What does the airflow feel like? Both within the inhale and the exhale. Does it feel fluid or does it have little jerks within it? Does the air flow faster or slower at times? Then end by feeling the breath as a whole. And understand that the only reason for this exercise and these questions is so that you can start to get to know your breath. And yes, this simple exercise will most likely leave you feeling more relaxed, focused and at ease. That simply!
When I teach a week long Yoga workshop like the one I just presented at Kripalu earlier this month, I start every day with 20-45 minutes of breath awareness exercises. And it’s profound to observe the participants sit up afterwards (as you always are recommended to end breath practice/Pranayama with Savasana(corpse pose). The changes in their faces and bodies are not possible to miss. Eyes are wider and more open, skin is softer and more receptive. The guard is down and they are more fully themselves. I always feel lucky to be the one observing these changes in my students.
When life as been the most challenging and the most painful, it has been my breathing practice that has “kept me going”. That has helped me be with the difficulties, feel the pain and find the patience needed to allow for it to change once again. Into ease and joy.
So, breath. And take time to breath with awareness. Just be curious and gentle and there is no end to what you might discover.
And of course, come and take a class for continuous guidance in this powerful practice of the breath.