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!