Your breath is the basis of your life energy – as you inhale, you are nourishing your whole system with your prana shakti (your life-force), and as you exhale, you are releasing all of the impurities from your body and mind. You should start to become aware of the breath, because it is your best friend. It is the vehicle of your life energy, and the bridge between your mind and your body.
The gift of yoga is learning to breathe mindfully, which means slowly and deeply – whatever the circumstances. The breath, the mind and the body are inter-related – your breathing changes according to the state of your mind, e.g. sadness, anger, jealousy, happiness, etc. You may also notice that when you are stressed the breath is active, and when you are depressed it is passive and jerky; but when you are relaxed it is rhythmic and deep. Yogic practices teach you how to find your balance between your body and your mind; and as you learn to breath slow and deep, it will help you to experience clarity in your life – so that you become conscious of what you are doing at all times.
To develop this awareness, inhale deeply and hold the breath (only for a short time), then slowly exhale. It is also helpful to keep a short pause after the exhalation when your mind is full of chatter. Breathing in this way helps to withdraw your senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) from the external world, as well as in all of the life situations that you face, and directs your awareness within. Withdrawing the senses (pratyahara) is an essential element of your yogic journey, so the breath is a very important part of this process.
If you are looking to calm yourself, learn to bring back the awareness to the breath as often as possible, making it as slow and deep as you can. In any situation that is stressful, tense, or when you just don’t know what to do, come back to your breath. A few rounds of slow, deep breathing helps to refresh your mind and give you strength, helping to build a bridge to your inner self.
All of your deep-rooted habits and attitudes (samskaras) are stored in your subconscious and unconscious mind, and these are what prevent you from being at peace. There are only a few things that can penetrate to the subconscious and unconscious mind – one of the most important is the breath. The impressions of all your actions – both positive and negative – are stored in the form of energy (in the astral body). A positive action helps your life energy to flow spontaneously, while the consequence of negative actions is to distract this flow, causing blockages in the system. These blockages prevent your mind from experiencing harmony in the present moment, but slow, deep breathing helps to gently move the energy through these blockages. That is why the yogic breathing system is known as the art of conscious breathing – also known as pranayama.
Through this conscious breathing, along with kumbhaka (holding the breath), and with the addition of the sound and vibration of chanting mantra, it helps to purify the yogic channels (astral) – the nadis. This helps to detoxify both the physical, mental and energetic layers of the system, and that leads you to a dimension of experiencing stillness in the mind, and clarity in your life. Only then can you begin to walk gradually towards the source of your life-force – your overall health.
As you learn to master your breath you will discover your inner strength; and that inner strength will help you to react appropriately in all different situations and conditions of your life – consciously – in a way that will keep you functioning with harmony.
When you start breathing slowly and deeply, gradually expanding the belly, diaphragm and chest, then holding the breath, you will notice that the first breath is not so deep, but as you start to warm up within, each round spontaneously expands your breathing capacity. As your capacity to inhale oxygen expands, so does the capacity to expel the air – the slower you breathe, the more toxins, or impurities, you will be able to release. When you also bring your awareness there, you are further nourishing both the inhalation and exhalation with your prana shakti, your life force, so the effect is further multiplied. Your entire system will be receiving more oxygen; and since many impurities are held in the lungs, breathing in this way is a great way to help detoxify the body.
In order to experience your breath, we are offering you a technique to practice – it is called nadi shuddhi kriya, which you can do twice a day – for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. If you do this consistently, keeping your mind on the process, for a period of 21 days, you will definitely feel a difference in your breathing patterns.
Nadi shuddhi kriya
- Closing the right nostril with the right thumb and having the left hand in chin mudra, inhale deeply through the left nostril – focusing your attention there – at the same time stretching the left arm up, and spreading the fingers wide.
- Hold the breath, focusing the awareness on the Third Eye (the place between the eyebrows).
- When you can no longer hold the breath, slowly exhale through the nose, bringing the arm down, co-ordinating the action with the breath. Exhale as slowly and for as long as you can.
- Repeat on the right side.
- Continue this practice for 10 minutes.
This technique is just a recipe to help you experience your harmony. Keep in mind that just knowing this technique and remembering it will not help to transform your experience of it. So it is very important that you practice this method regularly, consistently and be attentive during the inhalation, exhalation and holding the breath, maintaining the rhythm between the three. Do not use any force during the inhalation, exhalation or when holding the breath; and if you find any type of tension during the practice you should reduce the duration of holding the breath.
As a supplementary practice, if you find that it is difficult to focus, or you have difficulty in breathing because either one or both the nostrils are blocked, you can begin the practice by adding kapalabhati breathing on the left side (blocking the right nostril and exhale, exhale, exhale …) for 11, 21 or 40 exhalations, and then continue with Points 1-3 above. When you have finished on the left side, add the kapalabhati breathing on the right side before inhaling deeply and raising the arm, and continuing the practice.
For a demonstration of this practice you can watch these two YouTube videos showing our senior teacher, Shailendra Singh Negi explaining and practicing this kriya: https://youtu.be/sKzUfkmi6Vw (Part 1) and https://youtu.be/TjoORkBzlTE (Part 2).