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30 days of yoga with hipS-sister - DAY 29

DAY 29. Read to the end for your challenge/question of the day

The Vital Breath

The gentle rhythm of our breathing is our constant companion from the day we are born until the day we die. By learning to first observe and then to control our breathing, we can influence our emotional state, our ability to concentrate and the way energy moves in our bodies. Pranayama (breath control) exercises form a practical link between the mind, the physical body and the subtle body, and are a fundamental part of yoga practice.

According to the 17th-century text Gheranda Samhita, there are four requisites for pranayama practice. The first is sthana (“right place”) – somewhere cool, quiet and, ideally, away from any distractions. The second is kala (“right time”) – choose a time when you will be undisturbed; if possible, practice before dawn (although any time is better than not at all). The third is mita-ahara (“right diet”), you should be neither hungry nor too full, having eaten in moderation. The fourth is nadi-suddhi which refers to the purity of the energy channels (nadis) through which prana flows. These principles still apply today as they did 400 years ago.

According to one yogic tradition, we are born with a certain number of breaths for a lifetime. By slowing down our breathing – extending each breath to gain from it the maximum benefit to our body, mind and spirit – we are able to prolong our life. Perhaps this is farfetched, however, slowing down our breath DOES reduce stress levels enabling us to relax and enjoy each moment of life more fully.

Pranayama is divided into three phases: inhalation (putaka), breath retention (kumbhaka), and exhalation (rechaka). The inhalation is a nourishing breath that brings energy, warmth, strength and vitality to the mind and body. Retaining, or holding the breath creates a clear pathway around our body that allows prana to move freely in all areas, filling us with energy. The exhalation is cleansing, cooling, restorative, calming and balancing. A single, complete breath, taken fully, is both nourishing and energizing.

Most people do not breathe in a way that fully utilizes all the space in their lungs. We are rarely encouraged to think about our breathing and the effect that it has on our mental and physical states. The first step in pranayama is the non-judgmental observations of your natural breathing. If you try the exercise we will give you here (observing the breath) you may be surprised in two ways: first, the pattern of your breath may be erratic (short breaths, long breaths, with uneven gaps between them); second, you may find that it is difficult to concentrate on your breathing, even for a few seconds without becoming distracted.

pranayama2First exercise: Observing the Breath
Before you attempt any of the other pranayama exercises, work on this simple breath observation. You will be using a combination of concentration and breathing work.
Lie in corpse pose or sit cross legged, in half lotus or in hero pose. Make sure that your spine is straight. Close your eyes and, if you like, place your hands on your chest and upper abdomen to help feel the movement of your breath. Listen to the flow of air into and out of your body. Visualize its path through your nostrils, down your throat, into your lungs, and from your lungs into your blood. As you breath out, visualize this pathway in reverse. Notice how your in-breath feels cool at the upper part of your nostrils, and how your out-breath feels warm at the lower edge.
What is the texture of your breathing? Is it rough or smooth, fast or slow, even or uneven? Don’t worry if your breathing is rough, fast or uneven – the act of observation is the important thing and controlling the quality of your breath will come next. If your attention wanders, gently bring your focus back to the moment of each breath.
Observe your breath in this way for as long as you feel comfortable, then gradually allow your breathing to become smooth, slow and even. Your out-breath becomes the same length as your in-breath with brief, consistent pauses in between. It may help to count how long each in- and out-breath takes. Try to breathe steadily in this way for a few minutes. Extend the time you spend on this exercise until it becomes easy.

Don’t quit your breathing exercises once you’ve mastered the above. Here are a few breathing exercises you can try at your own pace:

Day 29 challenge:
Your challenge today is to try the “observing the breath” exercise. Let us know what you observed and how you felt after foscusing on regulating your breath.
Share with us in the comment box below.
All participants’ names will be entered in our 30 days of yoga with hipS-sister draw Oct. 1st.

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