4 Breathing Exercises For The Holidays
The holidays can be a joyous time filled with family and friends, but it can also be a triggering time. If my practice has taught me anything, it is the power of the sacred pause. When we pause we become present and are able to remove ourselves from the triggering situation, and become the creator of the next steps, it could be to YELL or to breathe!
When we think about Yoga we only think about Asanas, the practice of mindful physical movement and poses, but yoga is more than just pretty Instagram poses, it’s a lifestyle. Pranayama, which is also yoga, is the practice of breath control, with breath control comes prana which is the universal source of life. Prana is a Sanskrit word for “absolute energy” according to Dharma Singh Khalsa. M.D, prana is believed to enter the body in different ways, but mostly through breathing”
So, I bet you’re asking yourself what does breath control and prana have to do with my loving but prying sister? When you’re conscious of your breath you seize the opportunity to become present in each moment which can come in handy during those triggering moments around the holidays!
Before you get started, it's always important to try to take a few relaxed breaths before and after each exercise.
Breath of Fire
This form of breathing is unique to Kundalini Yoga, which creates healing energy. Breath of Fire is rapid, rhythmic, and continuous. It’s great for increasing endurance, reducing stress, releasing toxins and deposits from the lungs, mucous linings, blood vessels, and other cells, increasing oxygen delivery to the brain, facilitating a focused, intelligent, and neutral state of mind, and repairing the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Practice Breath of Fire by sitting easy pose or a comfortable seated position straight spine, close your eyes 9/10 of the way, and roll them up focusing on the area where the brows meet, hands in prayer pose, palms together with thumbs pressed into the center of the chest. Begin by inhaling and exhaling through your nose breathing from your diaphragm keeping the chest relaxed. (imaging pumping your navel in and out while breathing through your nose) Make your inhalations and exhalations powerful and fast. Do not pause in between inhaling and exhaling. To end take a deep breath in through your nose, hold for 10 seconds, then exhale, repeat 2 more times. Sit in stillness for a few moments to notice the sensations. Practice for 1-3 minutes gradually increasing your time.
This form of breathing is useful for calming the mind and the nervous system in tricky situations both on and off the mat. Ujjayi (OO-JAI) Sanskrit for “breath of victory” has a balancing influence on the entire cardiorespiratory system, releases feelings of irritation and frustration, and helps calm the mind and body. Benefits include increased amounts of oxygen in the blood, relief of tension, increased energy, and release of toxins.
Practice Ujjayi Breath by slowly inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Exhale slowly through your nose while gently constricting the muscles in the back of your throat. (try exhaling the sound “HAAAAH”) Inhale slowly through your nose, while gently constricting the muscles in the back of your throat. (try inhaling the sound “HAAAAH”) If you’re doing this correctly, you should sound like waves in the ocean. To end release Ujjayi breath and relax practice for 3-5 minutes, gradually increasing your time.
This form of breathing exercise provides equal amounts of oxygen to both sides of the brain. Nadi Shodhana is a powerful breathing exercise with benefits linked to reducing stress and anxiety, assisting in calming the nervous system, and fostering mental clarity. Nadi is a Sanskrit word meaning “channel” or “flow” and Shodhana means “purification” making this practice great for unblocking and purifying the mind and body. Nadi Shodhana is also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing
Practice Nadi Shodhana sitting in a comfortable position, being mindful of your spine, gently close your eyes, take 3 full and deep breaths in, and slowly release a smooth breath. Fold right index and middle fingers in touching the base of the palm, use the thumb to block off the right nostril and the ring and pinky to alternate blocking the left nostril. Begin blocking the right nostril off with the right thumb, then inhale deep into the belly, hold, alternate blocking the left nostril with the right ring and pinky finger, exhale through the right nostril. Keeping the left nostril blocked, inhale deep into the belly, hold release and alternate to blocking the right nostril exhaling out of left nostril. To end finish final breath, then relax you hand down into your lap and take several full deep breaths. You can practice for 3-5 minutes gradually increasing your time.
This form of breathing exercise helps to ground and calm you while inviting you to breathe deeply and completely, increasing oxygen and decreasing anxiety levels, helps with mindfulness and body awareness, and lowering stress levels. Dirga Swasam (DEER-gah) Sanskrit for “deep” or “complete” (swha-SAHM) “breath.” This breathing exercise is great to counter act shallow chest breathing and feelings of tension. Dirga Swasam is also known as Three- Part breath.
Practice Dirga Swasam Pranayama take any comfortable position seated or reclined, gently close your eyes, become aware of your natural breath as you place your left hand on your abdomen palms below belly button and right hand on your chest. As you inhale feel your abdomen fill with oxygen, follow the breath as it travels to fill the ribs, traveling all the way up to your chest filling it with air. As you exhale follow the breath as it travels from the chest, to the ribs, to the bottom of the abdomen. This is one complete cycle of the three-Part Breath, continue at your own pace for 1-3 minutes gradually increasing the time.
Practice your breathing techniques as often as possible so it becomes second nature especially during the holidays. Being able to control your breath will deepen your physical practice dramatically, and will help you take each posture longer, deeper, and more healthfully. Breath control will also increase your mental and emotionally health and wellbeing allowing you to stay in control of your emotions in triggering situations during this holiday season.