Are you stressed at work? Overwhelmed by all of the holiday shopping you still have on your plate? Did your mother in law just say something that rubbed you the wrong way? If you answered yes to any of these questions, humor me and try this exercise: Close your eyes. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause. Repeat 10 times and focus on your breath. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. Feel your diaphragm expanding and contracting. Be calm. Be relaxed. Be focused.
Open your eyes and let’s talk about what just happened. Do you feel any different? On a physiological level, your deep breathing helped reset your “fight or flight” reaction that could have been triggered by a stressful event (work, holidays, mother-in-law). You just practiced a yogic tradition called Prana. Have you heard this word from your yogi friends? Prana means “life force,” and pranayama is a collection of breathing techniques in which you control your breath in specific ways to achieve the desired result, whether that be relaxation, healing, or gaining energy.
But you don’t have to be a yogi to know intrinsically that your breath plays a role in every waking moment, whether you are aware of it in that moment or not. It’s when your breathing becomes fast after an argument; when your breath is shallow right before walking down the aisle; when it’s deep and slow waking up on a weekend morning with nothing pressing you to get up and go. Learning to harness the prana and control the breath can quickly help you focus before a big presentation or to regain your composure when someone has gotten under your skin. Here’s a link to some exercises and poses to get you started.
Now that you’re thinking about your breath, take a deep one and check out the ways in which focused pranayama breathing has been found to positively affect: PSTD, COPD, depression, and anxiety, as well as immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders.
Relax right now
Deep breathing lets us tap into the body’s “relaxation response,” which helps us calm down and stop obsessing. We’ve all had those days, right?
While there are many formal ways to practice pranayama that can be learned from a yoga instructor, simple deep breathing is easy as finding a comfortable spot to sit or lie down. Then inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs entirely – so your belly rises – then exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this for just a few minutes each day at home or at the office and then start enjoying the calm clarity it brings to your life!