3 Pranayama Techniques for a calmer & more joyful mind
You may be wondering what pranayama is. Put simply, it is breathing techniques — ways of controlling the breath. In the Yoga Sutras, it is defined as “The practice of controlling the vital force [or prana], usually through control of breath.” It is the fourth of the eight limbs, or principles, of yoga. Now, you may be wondering what prana is. It is energy, or the life force within.
To me, the breath is this tool we are so lucky to be born with, that can really help us out if we pay attention. Breath awareness can bring us back into our bodies, no matter how far our minds have drifted. It can help us take the power back from our minds, instead of letting it have power over us. These techniques that I show you in the little videos below are basic pranayama techniques that you can do anywhere — in your car, at home, in your office, wherever. You don’t have to be a “yogi” or have ever practiced yoga to do these. My hope is that they be a tool for you to find more calm, stillness, ease and joy throughout your days, no matter what may be going on in your life.
Below are 3 links to 3 short videos, showing you how to do 3 different techniques. Below each link I wrote an explanation and times when it may serve you best to use that specific pranayama technique.[If you watch the intro, I talk about breath of joy, but note that I’ll be sharing that technique in a later post instead.]
Nadi shodhana or alternate nostril breathing, is a breath I like to do if I am ever feeling anxious or like I’m just all over the place. It is simply breathing in one nostril, holding the breath and then releasing through the other nostril, then continuing the cycle, moving from side to side. It is a centering breath, and is said to help balance the hemispheres of our brains. I think it’s great if you’re nervous for a presentation you’re giving or even if you’re about to have a hard conversation with a loved one. In sanskrit, Nadi means channel and Shodhana means purification. This makes sense to me because it feels like you’re almost cleaning out your consciousness, gently.
When you practice it, try to focus your awareness only on the inhale and the exhale, and use the counting breath like I show in the video if that serves you. Every time your mind takes you away, gently come back to the breath.
The Dirga breath is another calming and centering breath, but I think it’s really great if you’re feeling particularly disconnected from your body and too in your head, because it engages your entire core area. With this technique, focus on the breath as it fills your belly, rib cage and chest, rest in the pause, and then focus on it as it exits the body, and finally, focus on the pause at the bottom of the exhale.
The Dirga breath provides a nice groundedness feeling. It is also known as the 3-part breath and was actually the first technique I ever learned! Every time your mind wanders, instead of getting caught in the story, just come back to your body — come back toy our Dirga breath — that’s all you have to do.
Lions breath is also another calming breath technique, but in a very different way. You just breathe in and as you exhale, open your mouth, stick out your tongue and cross your eyes. It’s really ridiculous. It is great for relieving tension and releasing both physical and emotional/mental tightness. This breath is awesome if you just need to let shit go, if something has really pissed you off, or if you just want to be silly. If I teach this in my classes, I tend to instruct it during downward dog, so my students don’t feel too weird doing it. I hope this one at least makes you smile.
I may be back with some more pranayama videos in the future. Let me know if this was helpful and if you get to try one or all of them out. Remember, this is a practice. There is no such thing as a perfect pranayama practice — it’s just not possible. Perfection or being “good” at it is not the point. Just show up — that’s all.
This awesome quote pretty much sums up why I believe in the practice and power of pranayama:
“Each time you bring yourself back to the breath is a moment of training. This is how the heart and mind learn to move from a state of habitual and reactive distraction to one that is more responsive, creative and aware.” – Vidyamala Burch
With love and light,