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Lengthen the Exhale

This one does not require too much explanation, it recommends a practice of extending exhalation to facilitate ease of inhalation.  There is a short tension releasing meditation at the end. Take a moment, recenter.

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Kapalabhati Breath

This breathing exercise focuses on the exhalation. The breath is forcefully expelled from the lungs by depressing the abdomen below the navel, but above the line of the pubic hair. This space is quickly pressed toward the spine in a staccato rhythm. The inhale is not governed and falls into the body naturally as the exhalation is released. You might forget to allow the inhale the first few times you do it, but that’s just part of the practice. Keep going and it will feel more natural.

As always, find a comfortable seated position and organize both sides of the body around the center line.  Lately I am imagining a cylinder that extends from the crown of my head (where a baby’s “soft spot” would be) down to the area circling my perineum.  This visualization helps me to create space between each vertebrae and sit up straight, align my chakras and connect to Earth and sky.

Kapalabhati means “skull polishing” or “skull light” in Sanskrit.  It is a nice visualization to imagine the inside of the crown glowing increasingly as you proceed, as if your exhalations are blowing upon a fire in the mind that consumes toxins for fuel.  I find this pranayama to be very helpful when my mind is caught in a negative loop, I am having trouble digesting or I have disturbing emotions that need processing.  Using this breath I can restore my heart and mind to radiance.

Benefits

This exercise is said to detoxify the body and the mind, clear the sinuses, strengthen the abdomen and improve the posture.  Kapalabhati warms the body, increases cellular oxygen, purifies the blood and helps focus the attention.   It energizes the system and works like a re-boot for overstimulated, emotion-laden weariness and toxicity.

Breath of Joy

Like a conductor guiding the breath through the belly, ribs and shoulders this dramatic and fun pranayama energizes, warms and invigorates the body.  This full-body exercise is a powerful tool against depression.  When the mind and heart stagnate from too much sitting, study or contemplation, the breath of joy returns us to a balanced, oxygenated state.

This sequence consists of three short nasal inhalations: while lifting arms out in front of the body to shoulder-height, while opening the arms at shoulder-height and then above the head.  The exhalation is forceful and comes from the mouth as the arms move quickly down toward the floor and the body moves into a squat.   You can do this exercise seated if a squat is not accessible to you.  It is very important to monitor your body’s responses and be mindful of lightheadedness or loss of balance.

Benefits

This is an excellent warm-up for any routine and can be helpful in getting ready for more difficult stretches or practices.  It has the ability to break up and move stagnant energies in the body and therefore can be considered the best breath for cleansing.  It is very gently detoxifying and after a few rounds you may notice a relaxed, detached state of awareness.

 

The Square Breath

This breath technique is rumored to be used by Navy SEALs before particularly difficult operations requiring exceptional calm and composure.   It reduces anxiety quickly, in as little as 15 minutes, and convinces the body to release neurotransmitters that help the body relax and learn more easily. https://www.verywell.com/neurotransmitters-description-and-categories-2584400

This practice has immediate effects on the brain.  When practiced twice daily (for about 15 minutes) while deliberately, increasingly slowing the breath it can deliver long-term relief for anxiety and chronic worry. http://cogbtherapy.com/cbt-blog/2013/08/reduce-anxiety-quickly-with-square.html

Remember to take a moment and align both sides of the body around an imaginary center line that runs from the perineum to the crown of the head.  If it helps, grow imaginary roots from the seat deep into the Earth and the crown into the cosmos like an antennae.  I use that image to remind myself to create vertical space in the body.

Of course, each breathing exercise should be modified to be comfortable and effective for you, but this is a simple technique: exhale to a count of 4, hold the breath to a count of 4, inhale to a count of 4 and hold to a count of 4.  Set  a 15 minute timer and try to slow down a little more each round.

Benefits

This exercise can show improvement with insomnia, high and low blood pressure (skip the hold at the inhale for high bp, after the exhale for low bp), asthma, fatigue, headache, muscle ache and heart disease.  Listen carefully to the signals from you body as you slow the breath and practice daily.

The Complete Breath

For anyone who writes or studies equal time must be spent in motion to promote balanced health.  While the long-term goal is to exercise regularly a slow start with simple foundations serves well.  Here I introduce you to the complete breath, it will support any physical efforts you make going forward.  The complete breath is performed through the nose.

First, turn your attention to your body.  Please do not judge your body.  Bring gentle, pleasant attention to it.  Choose a posture; standing, seated or lying down where you can comfortably align both sides of the body evenly along the spine.  Create as much relaxed distance between the belly and breastbone as possible.  Relax your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders.  Release your jaw and shoulders.  Be certain none of your joints are locked or tight.  Once you are relaxed and aligned, exhale completely.

Begin the inhalation by drawing breath onto the bowl of the pelvis.  Let the belly move out and away from the spine.  Place the hands below the bellybutton to feel the expansion. Think of the way a child’s or a puppy’s belly moves as they breathe in sleep.  Let your belly move like that.  Then let the breath fill up into the ribs and feel with your hands as the bones there move apart and upward.  Feel the space all the way around the torso from the breastbone to the spine following the bones of the ribs.

Let the breath rise all the way to the throat and shoulders and spread across the collarbone.  Feel the head floating above the neck and let the ears align over the shoulders.  When the lungs are pleasantly full and while still relaxed, begin to exhale.  Let the breath escape from the shoulders, slide down the spine and slip from the ribs.  Let the belly move toward the backbone and let the bowl of the pelvis tip forward.  When all the air is freed pause and begin the cycle again.

Several rounds of complete breath with inward attention make up a complete meditation practice.  When your focus strays from the motion of the breath along the spine, simply and gently guide it back, without judging your mind for wandering.  Notice if the body becomes tight or breathing is labored and gently return to a relaxed full rhythm.

Benefits

Deep, relaxed breathing like this stimulates the vagus nerve which controls the parasympathetic nervous system.  This nerve runs from the brain to the belly and this response is the equal opposite of the fight or flight reaction.  It signals to the body that it is time to rest and digest.  Complete breath returns runaway thoughts, anxiety and fear into relationship with the present moment.  When we breathe this way we are more connected to awareness and therefore the present moment and our relationships benefit.  Practicing this simple, cost free exercise helps us be more mindful of the signs of stress and to calm ourselves deliberately in heated situations.

The Brahma Mudra

Here is one of my favorite exercises for neck, shoulder, throat and head pain.  It uses motion, breath and sound to ease the stiffness that sometimes comes with inspired writing.  This practice must be performed while seated, but if a cross legged posture on the ground is not possible, please use a chair.  Find your sitz bones on either side of your tailbone and see if you can place them on the edge of your chair so most of your legs are forward off the chair and your knees are at a 90 degree angle.  Place you feet flat on the floor.

Wherever you are seated, align your body on either side of your spine and sit up straight.  Take a few complete breaths and bring your hands together in front of your navel.  Intertwine your fingers and cross your thumbs in the yoga mudra:

Image result for yoga mudra for brahma mudra

(I included the photo so that you can see the hand mudra.  If you can achieve the lotus seated posture comfortably, go right ahead, but if you are distracted in any way by sitting like this, find another way to sit, please!)

Once you are seated and have taken a few breaths and turned your attention inward, exhale completely.  On the inhalation count to 6 slowly and turn your head to the right so that your nose points over your right shoulder.  As you turn your head back to center say the ‘A‘ sound as it is pronounced in the word ‘hay’ for the full 6 count.  When you head is returned to the center begin to inhale and count to 6 as you turn your head to the left.  Exhale and say the ‘U‘ sound as it is said in the word ‘tune’.  When you reach center begin the inhale again and look up for the count of 6 like the man in the photo.  And you bring your head back down to center exhale and say ‘E‘ as in the word ‘bee”.  Coming back to center again, inhale for the count of 6 and look down toward your clasped hands.  As you raise your head to center hum the letter ‘M‘ as it’s pronounced in the word ‘May’.

Benefits

Repeat this cycle 6 to 9 times and let the sacred sounds of the word “Om” heal your cervical spine, throat and head.  This exercise is an excellent way to take a break from writing, focus inwardly and regain mental balance by spending time with sound.  The vibratory effects of chanting benefit the lungs and research shows it lowers blood pressure, normalizes adrenaline levels and brainwave patterns. It also feels good and is a good way to begin or end an exercise routine.

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