Category Archives: Pranayama
Ever notice what happens to the breath when we get scared? Anxious? Angry? We usually either hold the breath or breathe in rapid, short bursts. And what happens to the body as a result? It gets increasingly tense. The sympathetic nervous system – the home of our “fight or flight response” – is triggered and our stress levels soar, which triggers more irregular breath.
We may think of these responses as involuntary, but we can consciously train ourselves to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system – the part of the nervous system that allows us to rest and relax. Slow, deep breaths are the key. Whenever you feel your breath changing in reaction to a stressful or scary situation, remind yourself to pause and take a deep breath in and out. Do it as often as you need to help defuse the situation. You may not be able to control what’s happening, but you can learn to train yourself how to react to adverse situations.
One of the simplest forms of breath control is belly breath, more accurately called deep diaphragmatic breath. I often work with diaphragmatic breathing with new students before we move on to the more involved three-part breath.
Introduction to Diaphragmatic Breath
- Come to any seated or reclined position with a straight spine
- Close your eyes. Relax your face and body, and breathe naturally through your nose.
- Place your one hand or both hands on your low abdomen, a few inches below your belly button.
- Begin to focus your awareness on your breath as it moves in and out of your body through your nose.
- On your next breath, begin to lengthen your inhale to a three-count as you feel the natural lift of your belly into your hands.
- On your exhalation, relax your abdominal muscles and feel the belly drop away from your hands.
- Continue for three to five rounds before allowing your breath to fall back into its natural rhythms.
As you become more comfortable, you can gradually begin to lengthen both the inhales and exhales to a 10-count as long breath feels smooth and comfortable. You can also gradually extend the practice to around five minutes or longer. If, at any time, you begin to feel light-headed or anxious, discontinue the session.