“As honey is sweet from any part of the honeycomb, so is yoga. It enables every part of the human system to become attuned to its essence, the conscious seer within.” – B.K.S Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Yoga changed the quality of my life, and based on my personal experience, I invite everybody I know to slowly develop their own practice. And by practice, I am not implying to go attend classes three times a week and learn all those crazy arm balances and inversions (although that is a lot of fun, and I totally recommand you try it!). The practice of yoga is much more complete than the asanas part (the asanas are the postures, Asana means a seat, a position, a posture). In fact, it is only the third of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga. That means they are seven other disciplines in yoga (and so much to learn, exciting isn’t?). Through those eight disciplines, I am sure you can find one or maybe even a few to incorporate to your daily life.
One practice I recommand you start with is what I refer to as my Practice of Breathing, which is one extremely simplified version of Pranayama exercices.
Pranayama comes from the combination of two Sanskrit words, “Prana” which means the breath, the force of life, your vital energy, and “Yama” which means the extension of (that’s a very free translation, I do no pretend to be a Sanskrit expert). Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga, and there are lots of exercices based on the breath that you can discover through your practice.
However, today, we’ll keep it simple. Because yes, even though we breathe everyday, every minute, yet it seems like most of us forget how to breathe so often. Personally, whenever I start feeling a bit anxious, thinking too much, I come back to my breath. I learned it on my mat, with teachers reminding me to breathe when the postures became more difficult, and I apply it to my life, when I am facing obstacles or difficult situations.
Since starting my Kundalini practice, I’ve realized how shallow my breath is, even after 15 years of consistent yoga practice. I kid you not: breathing heavy is exhausting. More strenuous than running for an hour and a half sometimes.
But if there’s one thing, and one thing only, you want to practice in this life, it’s breathing. So that in these last moments of your life, you seize that one last breath fully, and release completely your soul hopefully for good this time.
A basic breathing practice
Here we go for the Practice of Breathing:
1. Find a place to sit quietly. Could be your living room, a bench park, your chair in your office.
2. Notice your breath.
- Is it slow or fast? Is your inhale longer than your exhale?
- Where do you breath from? Are your lungs, chest or belly expanding when you are breathing? Is it mostly in the front or in the back of your body?
- Can you feel your breath somewhere else in your body? Does it travel all around your body? Is is stuck in one place?
3. Start to slow down your breath and breath more like a sleeping baby. Expand your belly on the inhale, releasing it on the exhale. If it helps you to count as you are doing the exercice, start counting up to four when you inhale, hold on for two your breath, than exhale for four again. After a couple of rounds, you can make your exhale longer. Inhale for four, hold for two, than exhale for six. This usually calms the nervous system.
As simple as it might seem, the Practice of Breathing might take a while to master. It is a life time learning (funny hey to think that we have to learn something we were born doing?), so I encourage you to be patient and kind with yourself as you are developing your Practice. At the beginning, I wasn’t even able to get any air into my belly. It seemed stuck at my chest level, I had completely forgot how to create space in my stomach. The more I was forcing it, the less it was working. But with practice comes rewards, and I’m convinced that simply showing up for yourself with this Practice of Breathing will give you some long-term benefits if you commit to it.
Want to go deeper? Here are three books I recommand you get:
- B.K.S Iyengar – Yoga Wisdom and Practice
- B.K.S Iyengar – Light on Yoga
- Linda Sparrowe – The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health: A Lifelong Guide to Wellness
- H3O Foundation – Long Deep Breathing