The power of pranayama

For various reasons, including this hot summer weather, my physical yoga (asana) practice has taken a back seat over the last few weeks and months. I’ve taken the opportunity to spend some more time working with my breath, revisiting familiar pranayama practices and exploring new ones. It’s been a wonderful reminder of the power of breathing for shifting energy, changing thought patterns, and finding balance and calm.

This shift has been partly inspired by hearing my beginner students’ reflections and reactions as they explore how breath affects their bodies and their state of mind. Over the last few months I’ve heard things like:

“It really does work when I visualise my breath travelling to places that feel tight”

“I really like the alternate nostril breathing, it’s very calming”

“Lion breath felt very freeing, like it was releasing stress from my body”

“I can feel all the muscles in my back stretch and release when I send my breath to the back of my lungs” 

Witnessing these realisations is probably my favourite part of teaching, because it’s a sign that my students are starting to inhabit their bodies, become more self-aware, and learn to work with their bodies rather than against them. When you start feeling the effects of breathing and mindful movement, you can’t help but be in awe of our complex and wise human bodies. And in turn you start to love and care for yourself a little more.

These reflections from my students have re-inspired my pranayama practice, and I’m starting to incorporate more pranayama into my teaching too.

Here are my favourites at the moment:

  • Lion breath when I need uplifting or if I’m feeling frustrated
  • Bhastrika (bellows breath) to clear my head
  • Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) for rebalancing my state of mind
  • Breath of joy or Woodchopper breath to release anxious energy when I’m feeling on edge, or to energise when I’m feeling sluggish
  • Ujjayi (ocean sounding breath) for calm and presence
  • Three part breath for grounding and refreshment

These different ways of using the breath have an instant effect on your energy and mood. But a regular practice has long-term benefits too. Ujjayi breathing, for example, stimulates and strengthens the vagus nerve over time, bringing the calming and healing side of the nervous system into balance with the activating side. This can bring all kinds of psychological and physiological benefits including improving our emotional resilience and helping us to cope with stress.

It’s important to start a pranayama practice under the guidance of a teacher. Get in touch with me, or a teacher near you, to explore how your breath can help you to access your inner wisdom and find balance, resilience and calm.

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I look forward to meeting you on the mat soon.

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