May 21, 2017
Take a deep breath.
For me this past week was a whirlwind. As the studio is getting busier and we begin to think about workshops, I seem to be constantly moving at 100 miles per hour. Aside from work, life is also moving non-stop. My husband and I got married last October in Winchester but we are planning a party for my family and friends back in the states. The chaos of international event planning! As my world was spinning out of control, I rushed to David’s Yoga & Meditation class on Friday at 6:00PM (Rushed being the operative word as I ran to get to the studio 1 min before class started!). Heart still racing I laid down on the mat, knees resting on top of a bolster with a blanket under my head, and the first thing David said was…. breathe. Something so automatic, so basic, yet with the chaos that life throws at us it is something that we can forget to do. When you begin to focus on the breath, when you become aware of the breath, it is obvious the power it has to clam oneself, to cultivate peace, and to develop unassuming awareness.
It is no wonder that most yoga classes begin with pranayama (breath awareness) before starting the physical asana practice. As you settle into class and focus on your breath (the air moving in through your nostrils, filling your lungs, lifting your chest, and slowly flowing out in reverse) the anxiety of the day or the week seems to melt away, allowing you to settle into the present moment.
The word Pranayama is comprised of the word prana (vital life force) and ayama (pranic capacity or length). In a practical sense it is the control of breath for the purpose of connecting the mind and body. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classic text on the practice of Hatha yoga, states “When the breath wanders the mind is also unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still,”
In our everyday life we can feel the power of the breath. When you sigh or release a big exhalation, it is the body and mind letting go, surrendering and releasing. During the physical asana practice exhales are used when the body is closing or moving forward such as forward folds. The exhalation is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system and can increase the release of endorphins and dopamine.
Whereas an inhalation happens when frightened or as preparation for physical and mental exertion. Inhales are used when moving into heart opening asanas like backbends and are linked to the sympathetic nervous system associated with the flight/fight response (adrenaline).
Most of the time when we think of yoga, we think of the physical practice: the sun salutations, the postures, the inversions. But all that Yoga really means is union. Pranayama is the union between breath and the mind. So on this Sunday, as a new week begins with new stresses, I aim to pause, connect, and…..take a breath.