Spiritual practices are designed to enhance the quality of your experiences in life. Spirituality is the heightened state of connection to yourself and your environment on every level; this can be created in countless different ways. The most fundamental connection is to yourself and the essence of yourself. The Yogis recognized that our living essence if the prana, the life force. Prana is most directly accessed through the breath.
Many modern yogis know this too, but creating a practice that cultivates the breath can be challenging. It is only challenging in that students don’t know how to approach building a breath practice of their own. Asana is easy, we learn many postures and techniques in class, but breath is something that is less often taught, but the concepts are the same. We use both breath and postures as a way to explore sensation, feeling, awareness and energy. From there, we play with the expressions of posture and breath to move, expand and shift qualities of energy so that we learn about ourselves, our prana and our minds.
Let’s build up a little breath practice. You will need a timer or stopwatch, (which is on most phones), so open the app for the timer and place it somewhere that you can see it. We usually do breath practice with the eyes closed, but you will need to open them every so often to check the timer. Alternately, you can set an alarm that will go off at time that you set, telling you when to stop.
First do some asana to activate your prana, your attention and your body heat. Do enough asana so that you get a little bit warm. Once you have done that, make yourself comfortable in a seated position or lay on your back in supported Savasana.
- Stage 1: breathe gently but consciously for about 3 minutes. Use the timer to know how long 3 minutes is. Pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out and try not to think of other things or let the mind wander. Find the balance between effort and relaxation.
- Stage 2: use the simple method of counting the length of the breath. Count the length of the inhalation (try to use 1 count per second) and let the inhalation be 3,4 or 5 seconds long. Pause for 1 second after inhalation and then exhale for the same length as inhale. Pause for 1 second after exhale. Checking the timer, do this for about 5 minutes or a bit more. Do not stop until the timer has reached 5 minutes. Stay relaxed as you practice and take care not to strain yourself or cause the heart to race by trying too hard.
- Relax for a few breaths. Make sure your heartbeat is still calm and that the last section made you feel nice: energized but also calm. You can repeat the last exercise if it was really juicy and nice, doing another 5 minute cycle using the timer. There is no rush to move on.
- Stage 3: if you want to deepen the work, add 1 or 2 seconds to the length of the inhalation and exhalation. So if you did Stage 2 with a 4 second inhalation, now try to make the cycle with a 5 or 6 second inhalation. Do the same with exhalation. Make sure to keep doing the 1 second pause after inhale and after exhale. This will be important later on. Set the timer and do this for 5 minutes or longer if you can. Now you are starting to really get deeper into connection with your life force and you should start to feel some effects like heightened awareness, tingling or energy flowing through your body, or a deep sense of peace and relaxation, or some other positive experience.
- If Stage 3 was working really well for you, repeat that Stage for another 5 minutes. There is no reason that you have to change to something different if what you are doing is really nice. If you have a good thing going, keep going with it. If the feeling is really positive, connected and balanced and is putting you into a special state of ‘bhav’ or feeling, don’t be in a rush to change it. Do more instead. Avoid addiction to change or ever-increasing intensity.
- Stage 4: now go back to the length of inhalation you used in Stage 2, let’s say 4 seconds. Pause after inhalation for 1 second, but this time double the length of exhalation to 8 seconds and pause again after exhale for 1 second. Find a comfortable flow and keep it going for 5 minutes, using the timer and not stopping until 5 minutes is up. If you can’t sustain it, shorten the inhale to 3 seconds and the exhale to 6 seconds. Remember, any time you are doing breath work and it becomes uncomfortable, strained or too difficult, simply stop. Avoid forcing or trying to hard. Keep it Shanti!
Explore this sequence for a week, doing about the same amount and the same practices for at least 5 days in a row. A single breath practice is better than nothing, but it only really works if you keep at it and commit to doing it every day. As you do it more, it will become more comfortable, deeper and more powerful. You will never know the power of breath until you commit to exploring it, but once you get into breath practice, you will realize there is nothing quite like it!
Learn how to practice the yoga of Breath, Pranayama, Swara and other Pranic practices on one of our 200 Hour Teacher Trainings or our 100 Hour Advanced Modules. We teach a comprehensive system of Prana cultivation, starting from the basics and going through many powerful and intense practices such as Kumbhaka, Bandhas, Mudras and much more. Join us on a Training soon!