When most people think of yoga, the picture that comes to mind is something off the cover of Yoga Journal: Fit people doing rubber band like postures while still appearing comfortable enough to smile at the camera. Asanas, or the poses, are the most widely recognized tools of yoga. But pranayama is actually the tool most of us should be practicing. The ages of about 25 – mid 70’s are described in yoga teachings as the “midday” years. During this stage of life, our yoga practices should center on keeping us healthy, balanced and increasing our lifespan. The tool that helps improve health in this way is pranayama, or breath work.
Pranayama is subtle yet powerful, and generally we say is should be practiced only under the guidance of trained yoga teacher. But there are some very simple breath practices that can be done safely and effectively on your own. My teacher says that if you do 5 – 10 minutes of pranayama every day, it will change your life in ways you can’t possibly comprehend. He then goes on to say, “But you’ll never know, because you’ll never do it.”
Today, I’d like to challenge you to prove him wrong. Dedicate 10 minutes a day for the next 30 days to the breath practice below. Keep a journal and notice the effects. The first 5 people to share their 30 day pranayama stories with me will even get a prize!
Here’s the practice:
- Come to a comfortable seated or lying position. You can sit in a chair or on the floor, or lie on a firm surface with your knees bent. All that matters is that you are not “slouched.” You should be physically comfortable and your spine should be neutral.
- Notice how you feel before beginning to practice, in your body and in your breath. Then notice how you feel in your thoughts and emotions. Don’t worry if you don’t feel as you think you “should.” Just notice whatever comes to mind and be grateful for the awareness.
- Gradually, over 6 breaths, lengthen both your inhale and exhale. If your lengthened exhale is longer than your lengthened inhale, great. If your inhale is greater than your exhale, shorten it until both are equal. The inhale should not be longer than the exhale and at no time should you strain your breath.
- Once you reach a lengthened breath, breathe for at least 12 breaths at this lengthened breath.
- Once you finish 12 or more complete breaths, take 6 or more breaths to gradually bring your breath back to a natural rhythm.
- Notice any changes you feel after this practice, without trying to judge them as “good” or bad.
- Note your experience with this practice and what you noticed before and after it in your practice journal.
I hope to hear from many of you, and that you benefit greatly from this work.
Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!