It was absolutely BEAUTIFUL in South Carolina today! Perfect weather and sunshine. I was able to take some time before my yoga class this afternoon and soak it all in.
While I was outside, I started thinking about intentions. I also cue in my classes for students to set an intention for their practice. When I first started practicing yoga, this was usually a physical goal. “Today I will not skip vinyasas” or “today I will not faceplant in crow.”
Lately, my intentions have not been goals. They are more of states of being that I’m choosing to inhabit during my practice. Today, I shared my intention with my slow flow class.
My intention is to listen. So many times we listen to our heads instead of our bodies. This can lead to injury and can also inhibit our growth. Sometimes we remember what our bodies could do in the past instead of listening to what they need in the present moment.
Today, take time to listen to what your body is telling you. Back away from pain, but lean in to your edge. Challenge your body, but be kind and listen to it’s signals. Trust yourself and be your own guide during your practice.
In these stressful times that we are all collectively experiencing, it’s important to focus on healthy ways to stay grounded and connected with our bodies and minds. One easy way that requires little effort, no equipment, and no financial investment is pranayama.
Pranayama, simply put, is breathing practice. It may seem strange to suggest practicing something that our bodies subconsciously do so well, but practicing different pranayama techniques and harnessing prana, or breath, has a myriad of physical and mental health benefits.
When I first began my yoga journey years ago, I tended to shy away from breathwork or meditation. But now, both are part of my daily life and yoga practice. It’s one of the quickest, most efficient tools I have in my repertoire for calming down my mind.
The way you choose to harness your prana is important, and you should be intentional with your breathing to get the most benefit depending on what your body and spirit are craving. Personally, I tend to think of pranayama in 3 major categories: pranayama for energy balance, for calming and grounding, and for soothing and sleep.
Pranayama Practice for Energy Balance
An excellent way to balance your energy is by practicing alternate nostril breathing. To practice alternate nostril breathing:
First, find a comfortable seated position. Try sitting with a blanket supporting your sit bones.
With your right hand, fold down your center three fingers so that your pinky and thumb are free (like a hang 10 position).
Use your pinky to close your left nostril. Take a breath in through your right nostril, hold it, then close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through your left nostril.
Repeat this for 5-9 cycles. This will help clear your energy channels and balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
Pranayama Practice for Calming and Grounding
During those times of day when you need a dose of calming and grounding to lower anxiety and tension, one of the most simple pranayama practices is cleansing breaths. These can be practiced any time, any place.
To practice cleansing breaths:
Inhale through your nose, then exhale with a sigh with your mouth open.
For variation, try exhaling with a “shhh” sound.
When you need a dose of calm, try a round of at least three cleansing breaths.
Pranayama for Bedtime
Though any of the calming and grounding techniques could be used for bedtime, one of my favorites to practice before sleep, or in conjunction with bedtime yoga postures, is 3 part breath. To practice 3 part breath, begin by lying on your mat, or even in your bed. Stretch and settle in, getting any remaining restlessness out of the body.
Take a few natural breaths, then begin to inhale and exhale deeply through the nose. On each inhale, fill the belly completely up with air, then slowly exhale, letting the belly empty. Continue for at least 5 rounds of breath.
On your next inhale, fill the belly completely up with air, then sip in a little more, allowing the prana to travel into the ribs. Exhale, releasing air from the ribs first, followed by the belly. Continue for at least 5 rounds of breath.
Next, fill the belly completely up with air, then the ribs, then sip in a little more air, allowing it to fill the chest. Exhale, releasing from the chest first, followed by the ribs, then finally the belly. Repeat for at least 5 rounds of breath to complete the practice.
Try to incorporate a new pranayama technique into your daily practice and see what works for you and feels best. Be sure to listen to your body, and if a certain practice doesn’t bring you peace, try another.
Do you have any other favorite pranayama practices? What would you like to see me talk about in the blog in the future? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to connect!
For years, I was curious about yoga, but too intimidated to step foot into a studio. I didn’t think I was “yoga” enough. I didn’t own anything with an om symbol or Lululemon brand, and I didn’t look the part. Looking back now, I realize how wrong I was. Thankfully, the yoga studio in my area did a session after school for teachers at the high school where I worked. After that, I was hooked. I recruited a friend to come with me, and after initially going to the studio and realizing it was a safe, non-judgmental space, I was hooked!
Looking back now, fear was the only thing that kept me away from discovering a practice that changed my perspective and changed my life. I wonder how many other amazing things I’ve missed out on, or am missing out on, because of fear?
What fears are keeping you from trying something new or making a change in your life?