Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Prana-what??? Use Your Breath to Overcome Stress

The beautiful shapes of arm balances and impressive pretzel poses may be the most eye catching aspect of Yoga but the breath practice related to Yoga (Pranayama)  is where the real action lies. I know, Prana-what? Who doesn’t know how to breathe? Got it. My first time practicing breathing techniques in a yoga studio, I thought, how could this make any difference in my body? What could this possibly do for me? My attention was only on moving the body, while focusing on my breath seemed like a waste of time. My minds attention was on getting stronger and leaner, not sitting on a cushion. I had no idea the Pranayama practice would become life changing for me. Even though I didn’t initially seek out more, it filtrated into all areas of my life with an unmistakable calling to eventually teach this powerful practice at retreats, hospitals, schools and conferences internationally.

The formal practice of regulating the breath is at the heart of Yoga. It is the bridge between the physical, active practice of Yoga (asana) and the inward practice that leads us to allowing the mind, body and spirit to unite, rejuvenated, replenished and nurtured.

Practicing simple Pranayama exercises help you have more insight into your emotions, boost  your energy levels and increase your concentration and attention. It's scientifically proven to help with stress, anxiety, depression and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.


Usually, if you're not paying attention to your breath, it can be jumpy and sporadic, many times fluctuating depending simply on your thoughts. If you find your breath is short and choppy, you may be feeling hurried, rushed or overwhelmed. If you find yourself holding your breath throughout the day, you may be having thoughts of anger, fear or worry. On the flip side, when you're relaxed, you'll notice your breath becomes deep and slow.

The first yogis discovered that if they could even out the breath, they could also even out the scattered thoughts of the mind and now science also backs that up, reporting it take as little as 10 minutes a day of focused mindfulness to build a stronger mind and create changes in the way your brain functions. According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, after just eight weeks of simple breath awareness training, they were able to see positive effects, including an improved function of the immune system, improved blood pressure and increased empathy.

Mindfulness breathing is accessible for all of us and can be as easy as gently bringing your awareness to the sensation of the breath. Here’s two simple breathing techniques to create a new state in your body any time you feel anxious, tense or overwhelmed...

The Belly Breath
  1. Put yourself in a comfortable position, and place your hands on your lower abdomen.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply, you will feel your belly expand like a balloon.
  3. Feel the navel draw back as you release old, stale air by exhaling slowly.
  4. Inhale easily. Feel your abdomen expand again.
  5. As you exhale, fully release all the air out, navel draws back towards the spine.
 
This is the natural way of breathing, like a baby’s breath.

The Calming Breath   
1. Do five to ten Belly Breaths.
  2. While inhaling, imagine that you are breathing into a tense or painful part of your body.
  3. With each exhale; imagine tension streaming from your nostrils.
  4. Do the Belly Breath and imaging until you feel relaxed.
Begin your breathing with equal counts: in-one, two, three, four; out-one, two, three, four. For a deeper state of relaxation, change to a count of four in and eight out. Continue for a minute and notice how relaxed and at ease your body feels.

Whether your interested in learning new techniques for coping with stress in the workplace, improve your concentration, boost energy levels, manage anxiety or improve your state of over all well-being, conscious regulation of the breath is a valuable tool and can be as easy as belly breathing and counting your breath. Practice it anywhere, anytime and the results can be life-changing!

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