Did you know that your heart rate speeds up when you inhale and slows down when you exhale? There are so many automatic (thank goodness!) systems in our body. We don’t usually think about our breathing, our heart beating or our food digesting, it is something that magically happens. We have this amazing autonomic nervous system that takes care of everything.
As I mentioned in my post on Pranayama, breath work is a lot like dragging on a cigarette. We can breathe to speed up or stimulate our nervous system or breathe to slow down our nervous system.The breath can also be used to help us regulate emotions like anxiety, depression and chronic stress.
Keep in mind, that not all breath practices are appropriate for everyone and not everyone has the same reaction. For example, you’ll hear many teachers say that Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing, has a calming effect and deactivates the sympathetic nervous system. This is true. However, for some people, at least in the beginning, the practice creates anxiety. It is important to go slowly, watch your response and even better, work with an experienced teacher when you are exploring a new pranayama practice. (I’m happy to work with you online or in person – see my Inspire Your Life Program)
Breathing practices can be used if you are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed. They also work well in conjunction with other healing modalities and therapies.
When your nervous system is overactive from stress, anxiety or too much to do, focusing on your EXHALATION is the key. Remember, exhaling calms your nervous system. The goal with this type of practice is to first just focus your attention on your exhale. Do it now and see what you notice. Then consciously begin to lengthen your exhalation. You can do this by counting your in-breath and then add a count of 1 to your out-breath.
REMEMBER – if you feel any anxiety return to your natural breath
Let your in-breath reach down to your lower belly behind your navel and fill up to your collarbones. When you exhale, release completely from top to bottom.
Continue to lengthen your exhalation as it feels comfortable.
Another technique used to create calm is Bhedana Chandra or Left Nostril Breathing. In yoga, the left side of your body is associated with the moon or a sense of coolness. Alternately, the right side of your body is associated with the sun or heat. Bedhana Chandra Pranayama focuses on breathing in and out through just the left nostril. Here you can find information from the Harvard Medical School on the calming effects of this breath.
Try Bhedana Chandra now by following this video tutorial.
“the breath is a mechanism that is always with us to bring us back into our body and back to the present moment.” – Jacci
Use of any breath technique can help with feelings of stress or anxiety. You might find one technique is your go to or that different techniques work at different times. The work is to practice and find the one or ones that work for you.
Pranayama can create a sense of quiet and introspection that can be hard to find with other techniques. You might consider trying a short daily Pranayama practice to support your mind, body and spirit. Keep in mind that the breath is our life force and works on all levels of the body both gross and subtle.
Next week we’ll discuss raising our energy with Pranayama.