Correct use of the breath and yoga go very much hand in hand. They complement each other and bring harmony into the mind, body and spirit. A calm mind enhances any yoga practice and quality of life along with the physical benefits received from asanas.
Yoga is mostly associated with exercises however, it is a complete philosophy compromising postures, meditation, diet, self-discipline, breathing exercises and making a connection with the Divine/God. When included in your asana practice they all work in harmony and integrate seamlessly to bring a calmer and more productive lifestyle.
A lovely way to begin or end a yoga session is with meditation and pranayama. Anulom Vilom – alternate nostril breathing – helps to bring the mind into balance and regulate the breath. It is such a gentle pranayama, which used regularly assists breathing to become calmer and deeper. Pranayama are breathing exercises while meditation is observing the breath without controlling it.
Anulom Vilom Technique:
- Close the right nostril with your right thumb.
- Inhale slowly through the left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale slowly out of the right nostril.
- Inhale slowly through the right nostril.
- Close the right nostril with your thumb and exhale slowly through the left nostril.
- Repeat the whole cycle 10 times.
You can count each inhalation and exhalation starting at 5 seconds for each and building up to 10 seconds. You may also retain the breath – breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds then exhale for 5 seconds. It is advisable to build up your practice before retaining your breath in this way.
After practicing Anulom Vilom you should be ready to go deeper into meditation. There are several techniques for meditating successfully. I find that focusing attention on the breath throughout keeps you centred and grounded within yourself and not distracted by outside influences. Focusing on the breath can be done anywhere at any time.
Mindfulness of Breathing is a Buddhist technique and usually comprises four stages. Stage One is perfect to calm the mind and involves counting on the out breath.
Mindfulness of Breathing Technique for Stage One
- Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and bring your awareness to your breath.
- Narrow the focus of your attention to the breath right down to where you notice it entering and leaving the body via the nostrils.
- Without effort or control over the breath, start to count after each out breath.
- As you breathe out count one.
- At the end of the second breath, count two. Continue in this way until you reach ten.
- Once you reach ten – go back to the beginning and start again from one.
If your mind wanders and you find you have counted past ten, just bring your attention back to your breath and start counting from one again. Practice this for about five to ten cycles to begin with and build it up when you are feeling more confident in your practice. I suggest aiming for 20-minute sessions.
Counting on the out breath has a calming effect on the mind making it an excellent tool during daily activities such as walking, eating, driving, working etc. By being alert, you gain clarity and are more able to respond to life rather than react to it. This is meditation in action. Meditation and achieving a meditative state is always available to us and not confined to sitting silently with our eyes shut.
Correct breathing is important to our health and wellbeing. Practicing yogic breathing daily assists in balancing the breath and enhances meditation. Awareness of breath in anxious situations enables us to come become present, feel calm and gain clarity.
Yogic breathing is said to help balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain, hence why it complements meditation so well. Using meditation and pranayama in conjunction with each other will transform your yoga practice.