Photos by Brenna Duncan Photography for Soul & Surf, Portugal.
Breathing together is a profound yet simple way to unite as a conscious community; especially when we cannot connect in the physical ocean and share waves together like we normally do.
If you already practice yoga asana, breathing techniques will help take your yoga to the next level; asana is the third limb, whereas pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga.
Breathing is an innate tool that can also help regulate your nervous system… if you want more energy or conversely you want to relax; you just need to look to the breath. It holds all the answers… having more awareness of and developing control over your breath is truly empowering!
Yoga is way more complex that just popping out a few postures; there is a rich history, philosophy and structured learning process related to this spiritual practice. The yogic tradition encourages us to follow some initial intrinsic and extrinsic guidelines first. The yamas and niyamas, are the first 2 limbs of yoga and help steer us in the right direct with regards to our every day activities. Non violence (ahimsa), self study (svadyaya) and contentment (santosha) are three examples.
This guidance comes before we even start contorting our bodies and working with “prana” or life force energy. Yet, once we have an understanding of the first 2 limbs of yoga, we can incorporate them into the physical postures and use them as a philosophical framework for whatever we are faced with in asana. For instance: when working with a posture like pigeon pose… we could likely encounter all sorts of limitations, restrictions or frustrations. Rather than forcefully trying to move our foot into a place which hurts our knee (ahimsa), we instead tune in mindfully to the sensations that arise (svadyaya) and let go of expectations to reach a certain point (santosha).
While we might be quite accustomed to asana focussed yoga thanks to the array of classes, teachers and studios now available, during this time of “lockdown”, things are a bit more limited. However, we have the time and opportunity to delve into the more static and still aspects of yoga, namely breathing (pranayama, the 4th limb) and meditation (dhrana, the 6th limb).
Depending on what type of yoga you’re drawn to, you may have already experienced and practiced pranayama techniques. You may already have a strong connection to your breath, or you may struggle to breath due to physiological issues such as asthma.
Wherever you’re at, it’s important to acknowledge working with the breath, however empowering, may bring up fear or past trauma, therefore it’s very important to be gentle, to go slow and to really listen. If a breath exorcise isn’t working for you, and doesn’t feel right, take it as a sign to pause and return to whatever feels safe and comfortable. Breathing will ultimately get us through though, so whatever comes up try to acknowledge it, show yourself some love and if you’re ready, let it go.
Here are 4 short exorcises intended to connect you to the subtle energy body, “prana” and the breath.
Yin yoga was designed as a bridge between dynamic yoga and meditation. The long held postures allow us to shift into a meditative space, work with the connective tissue (fascia system) and the breath is equally as important as the position, if not more so. Yin encourages an “ocean breath”, one that will relax the nervous system. If your mind or body is overwhelmed or stressed, it will help bring you into a calmer state of being.
Sit comfortably upright, close your eyes and begin to notice your breath. We are not called to change anything just yet, our task is to simply become aware. Observe the breath intently, and if you become distracted (which is normal) by thoughts, feelings, sensations, external sounds or vibrations, bring your focus back. If you feel calm and relaxed, begin to lengthen the exhalation, which in turn will lengthen the inhale. See if you can tune into the sound of the breath; a gentle rasping sound, similar to the sound of ocean waves. Let this sound be your focal point to come back to, if you get distracted. Continue to observe all parts of the breath; the inhale, the pause at the top of the inhale, the exhale, the pause at the bottom of the exhale.
Astanga Vinyasa, Vinyasa Flow and most types of power yoga incorporate the Ujjai (victorious) breath. This breath has a physical purpose: to generate heat. This heat warms the muscles which will be strengthened and lengthened, fires up the cardiovascular system and helps burn through toxins the body. There is also an element of mental focus; it cultivates present moment awareness. If you are feeling lethargic or lacking energy, this is a great place to start; either in yoga postures or simply seated.
Make sure you have an empty stomach. Become aware of the energetic locks (bandhas) at the root of the pelvis and the deep core; gently engage to maintain your posture and lengthen the spine. Begin by exhaling your breath completely. Then the next inhale, slowly expand you rib cage 3 dimensionally; forward at the heart space, up at the shoulders, back into the shoulder blades. As you exhale draw the navel in towards your spine and use your diaphragm (the breathing muscle) to squeeze the lungs and release the waste air. Lengthen the back of the neck so that the throat feels slightly constricted (but your chin is not too low). This will create a louder sound and internal heat.
As surfers, we often battle with our breath, trying to get enough in before a big wipeout and gasping for air as we come up. Relaxation is the key, as struggle creates more stress and our brain will use more oxygen at a tim when we really need to conserve it. This technique is used by freedivers to expand the capacity of their lungs and it is a great way to bring more oxygen (which will nourish our whole system) into the body if we’re feeling tired.
Imagine your torso is split into three compartments. First, exhale everything out. Then using the breathing muscle (the diaphragm) we draw the air deep into the belly on an inhale. Fill up like a balloon, then pause. Continue the breath into the next compartment; the side ribs. Feel them expand out to the side, then pause. Finally, breathe into the heart space and upper chest. Let your whole torso be full of breath and pause. Then exhale slowly and completely. Take normal breaths between rounds.
In yoga, it is said we have tens of thousands of energy channels (nadis) in the body, which distribute “prana” (life force energy) and help sustain us. This exorcise helps to purify the nadi’s that flow from the nostrils to opposing sides of the brain; balancing the right and left hemispheres. Also known as alternate nostril breathing, it creates balance in our thoughts, feelings and actions.
Using a mudra (seal) with your fingers (on your right hand), make a shaka and release your ring finger to meet your little finger. Exhale out, then close off your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril. Once full of air, close off the left nostril (with the fingers), open the right and exhale out through the right. Once empty, inhale through the right. Then, once full, close off the right, open the left to exhale. This is one round. Keep practicing until you feel comfortable to extend the inhales, exhales and holds.
Yoga and breathing are an opportunity to delve into our individual experience during this global “time out”; there is no right or wrong, only safe or unsafe. Make sure you remain in a safe space whenever you practice. Try not to push or force (that’s just ego), and allow the unrested mind (the source of suffering) to be trained through a consistent, diligent and well rounded asana practice (both yin and yang). Strengthen your awareness and compassion as much as the abdominals. Apparently, this is the road to “samadhi” or enlightened bliss, in yoga philosophy. Which would be pretty nice place to be, right!?
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