Updated: Apr 23, 2020
"Breath gives life to every cell,
awakens the consciousness in each cell,
is the intelligence in each cell
so it continues to work."
- Dr. Pratima Raichur
The Breath : Your Natural Gateway to Clarity, Energy & Spirit
The Stress-Breath Connection
Have you noticed that when we are under stress, our breath also changes?
Or in comparison: have you noticed how much better you feel after taking a few long deep breaths?
The traditions of yoga and Ayurveda have long studied the connection between the breath, the mind and our level spiritual awareness, and have provided powerful tools to help us retrain our stress-response toward one of clarity, creativity and connection.
The Power of Your Breath
If we are attuned to our breathing patterns, we will notice that when we feel anxious, angry or stressed, our breath becomes shorter and more constricted. As the body prepares to defend itself against a perceived threat (fight or flight), our heart rate and blood pressure increase, and oxygen is redirected from the brain to other parts of the body. This makes our thinking more reactive, more short sighted, and more defensive and self-centered, and more likely to go into repetitive thought patterns (or loop thinking).
The good news is that by learning to harness to power of your breath, you can overcome common stress-related ailments, and also see great benefits in your level of mental clarity, energy levels, and spiritual awareness.
In the yogic tradition, daily breathing exercises "pranayama" (or control of the breath) are used to purify the subtle channels (nadis) of the body-mind, help build stress-resilience, and retrain your body-mind toward new ways of thinking, perceiving and behaving.
Today, modern research has confirmed many of the benefits of daily pranayama exercises, including:
Helping to rewire your body's response to stress
Bringing a healthy glow to your complexion
Clearing the subtle energy channels of the body
Bringing clarity and freshness to the body and mind
Balancing the emotions and bringing a positive, peaceful mood
Boosting the immune system
Slowing the aging process
"Thought and breath always work together.
When the mind struggles, the breath struggles;
when the mind is steady, the breath flows."
- Dr. Pratima Raichur
2 Easy Breathing Exercises to Try at Home
Working with the breath is a very simple clarifying daily practice that can be done from the comfort of your own home, for powerful results.
I have shared a few breathing exercises below to support your exploration.
In general, however, it is best to learn these exercises directly from a qualified instructor.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
Balances both sides of the brain;
Promotes mental clarity, focus and executive function;
Boosts positive emotions and resilience to stress;
Balances blood pressure;
Balances the 3 doshas (especially air and ether);
Calms an overactive mind;
Improves sleep quality.
Sit comfortably in easy pose, with the spine straight. Start with a friendly attitude toward yourself, your day and your body.
Block the left nostril with your ring and pinkie fingers, and inhale through the right nostril. Block the right nostril with your thumb, and exhale through your left nostril. Inhale fully through the left nostril, then block the nostril with your ring/pinkie fingers and exhale fully through the right nostril.
Continue this breath for 3-5 minutes with eyes closed, alternating between the left and right nostril.
Note: In general, this breath is safe for most people.You may wish to speak to your doctor if you have a medical condition such as asthma, or any other lung or heart concern.
The Breath of Fire (Kalabati Breath)
Relaxing and energizing;
Supports weight loss and strong digestion; tones abdominal muscles;
Increases mental acuity, improved concentration and heightened senses;
Brings heat (transformation) to the body, improving circulation;
Clears congestion and ama (toxins) from the body-mind;
Increases lung capacity and improves respiratory efficiency;
Balancing for vata and kapha; increases pitta dosha.
Sit comfortably with the spine straight and relax into your body with eyes closed and your smile.
Begin Breath of Fire by contracting the navel inward with a strong exhale through the nose. Continue this rapid, rhythmic, and continuous exhalation through the nose, allowing the navel to pull inward toward the spine with each breath. The inhalation happens naturally (without you noticing it)
Continue this breath for 1-3 minutes. After a few weeks of practice, you can gradually increase to 5-10 minutes.
In general, this breath is safe for most people. You may wish to speak to your doctor if you have a medical condition such as asthma, or any other lung or heart concern.
Avoid this breath if you are menstruating, suffering from cardiac problems or high blood pressure. This breath is heating, so can also be aggravating to pitta dosha.
A Final Word on Breath
Working with the breath is a subtle yet powerful practice that is best experienced -- rather than understood intellectually. I recommend trying it out by incorporating it into your yoga or meditation practice to truly experience the benefits.
If you'd like to learn more, please check out our upcoming course on Introduction to Meditation and Spiritual Energetics, starting Wednesday May 6 at 7 pm. This course includes a 40-day meditation practice (including daily pranayamas) and has yielded great benefits in terms of greater levels of energy, mental focus, stress-resilience and spiritual perception.
About the Author
Briya (Rachel) Freeman facilitates courses in meditation, ayurveda and modern spirituality. She is passionate about exploring the potentials of human consciousness in a way that respects, unites and transcends global culture and tradition.
Briya is a long-term student of Berdhanya Swami Tierra, a female mystic and shaman of South American origin. She also holds studies in ayurveda at Anjali School of Ayurveda (Kerala, India) and a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from the University of Ottawa. She is the creator of Ayurveda for Vibrant Living, a practical exploration of the fundamentals of the science of self-healing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at briyafreeman.com