Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Building Breath Awareness

Finding Equal Breathing - Sama Vritti Pranayama
Breath Awareness or Conscious Deep Breathing is one of the simplest ways to calm and integrate the mind and body. The body is always breathing. You are always breathing. The first step toward having the breath be your ally is to become more aware of it. The next step is to make subtle shifts that will allow the breath to be easier and deeper. You might notice that your belly is tight and the breath is shallow. Or, the exhale is quick and unconscious while the inhale is almost non-existent. Whatever your particular patterns are, here are some simple directions toward breathing well and being well.

Soften the Belly
When breathing, the diaphragm should be relaxed enough that your abdominal wall rises and falls with the breath. Your belly should expand and fill when you inhale, and empty completely when you exhale. If you are an athlete, with a muscular stomach, give yourself time and practice when learning how to relax this vital area.

Diagnose Imbalances
It is ideal if the length of both inhale and exhale are approximately the same. As you pay attention to your breathing, you may first find that your belly is not moving. Correct this by practicing softening, relaxing, and stretching the abdominal wall, in addition to allowing long relaxed breaths, both in and out. As your breath becomes balanced, your mind becomes balanced. As your deep breath becomes a way of being, your body and mind becomes robust and serene at the same time.

Stretching and Bodywork
People often have difficulty breathing deeply because the back muscles and intercostals (around and between the ribs) are too tight. Stress, lack of exercise, too much exercise, or bodily held feelings often cause the muscle groups around torso to restrict the movement of the rib cage. As stress and holding dissolves, the breathing parts (belly, diaphragm, ribs, lungs, and back) can move in an easier way. The diaphragm opens more. The chest and back muscles soften, creating more ease for the rising and falling of the ribs. Stretching, stress reduction, meditation, bodywork, general relaxation, and emotional release all contribute toward dissolving body armor and making the body more open.

Practice Breath Awareness
It is not likely that you will always be aware of your breathing. Therefore, I suggest that you set aside times to practice and focus upon the breath. I like to practice slow deep breathing when I am working at the computer, when driving on long stretches of open road, when giving bodywork, and as a way to begin meditation. It tends to foster a relaxed, focused state of mind. Take long deep breaths, both in and out, relax the belly, breathe, flow, and go. My meditation always begins with a few moments of being mindful of the breath.

The breath can also be used to open the heart. In Tonglen Buddhist meditation, you practice breathing in the suffering of all beings around you. On the exhale you release and send any happiness or joy you have. Or, you can contemplate all the dualities of life. Breathe in, life is born. Breathe out, life dies. Breathe in, day. Breathe out, night. Breathe in, yin. Breathe out, yang.

Breathing is so basic. It is one of the easiest things to miss. And that is also how our essential nature is: basic, natural. But, we have habits of complicating this. Then we spend years trying to shed our complications. However and whenever you consciously breathe, do it with awareness, an attitude of good health, and a love for yourself, and all of life.

Sara's Note: I found this article on

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yoga Nidra

I have really been enjoying practicing and learning Yoga Nidra. I talked about it a little bit in my previous post "When Do I Rest?" and mentioned the 2 CDs I have listened to so far ( Yoga Nidra by Robin Carnes and Yoga Nidra with James Jewell). I find that the more I listen, the more I like this kind of relaxation and visualization. It's funny how I think I am alert and aware (and awake) but each time I listen I hear something new. Or maybe it's just that I am ready to hear something new? I don't know and it doesn't matter. All I know is that I feel like Yoga Nidra is a gift that I want to pass on.

During the Winter Reflection Retreat I played Robin Carnes' CD and the participants loved it. (Click on image to buy from Amazon.) I have had many of them come to me since the retreat and request a full class of just Yoga Nidra. I had one student tell me how she and her two friends talked about the experience and compared notes on who remembered what. They all remembered different things but they also all reported feeling amazingly relaxed. Another friend who works random night shifts has begun to listen to this CD and is finding relief in his sleeping difficulty.

I'm happy that I found this great resource and that I can pass it on to others who can also benefit. There's tons of Yoga Nidra CDs out there and if you buy them by the track it's very affordable to try multiple styles (I bought these for 99 cents each on Amazon).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Three Part Breath

Three-Part or Complete Breath ~ Dirga Pranayama

I like to bring my students into breath awareness by practicing 3-Part Breath at the beginning of class.

Benefits: Focuses the attention on the present moment, calms and grounds the mind.

Practice: Begin by becoming aware of the breath: How does it feel to inhale and exhale? Is your breath smooth, steady, and without pause? When you are settled in with breath awareness, come to equal breathing (Sama Vritti Pranayama): same count inhale, same count exhale.

When you have established yourself in your breath, bring your right hand to your belly and feel the breath pushing the belly out on the inhale and feel the belly draw back into the body on the exhale. No forcing. This happens naturally. Breathe this way at least 5 complete breath cycles.

Next, bring your hands to your side ribs and start to feel the ribs expand into your hands on the inhale and draw back into the body on the exhale. If you can’t feel this you may need to bring some muscular work into it by consciously expanding the rib cage. Breathe this way at least 5 complete breath cycles.

Finally, put one hand between the belly and the ribs and the other hand up on the upper chest. Now bring the breath all the way up into the upper chest after you have filled the belly and ribs. Push the breath into the back body as well as the front body. Expand from the bottom of the belly to the top of the shoulders, into both side bodies, and into the back body. Breathe this way at least 5 complete breath cycles. Then return to smooth, steady breathing but continue to maintain your mind's focus on the breath as you move out into your day or into your practice.