If we want to bring more presence into our lives, the easiest thing we can do is to breathe more consciously. However, Westerners have become a culture that does not breathe intentionally. One of the wonderful gifts of starting a yoga practice, and perhaps the most important, is to learn how to breathe.
For students who are new to the practice, this can seem daunting and often create more tension and anxiety when a teacher is leading the student through Pranayama. Our Prana is that which calls us into existence. It's the force that animates us. It is the very inspiration that can guide us out from the maze of suffering that can often feel suffocating and claustrophobic. It's the muse that motivate us to create and live an artful life.
When we talk about breath, we talk about the flow or stream of breath - the way that the breath moves. According to yourdictionary.com, the word stream comes has it's origin in the Indo-European form of sreu, which means to flow from source. A steady flow of Prana and Consciousness can soothe the nervous system in way that softens the edges of narrative that can lead to a place of reactivity. When we breathe consciously, it's as if we are following the origin of a river back to it's source. How do we define this source? For me, it's the recognition of all that is true and meaningful. It is a remembrance of deep seated love and compassion that is patiently waiting for you to access it.
When I teach Restorative Yoga, I like to offer students the opportunity to connect to breath in a way that doesn't feel too controlled or regulated. There is a fine line between being aware of breath and trying to interfere with it. Visualization is an excellent skill to open up the Pranic pathway without overstimulating the nervous system. The following guided meditation uses the system of nadis (energy channels) and alternate nostril breathing to bring awareness to the fullness of breath.
Begin seated or lay down on your back with a rolled blanket or bolster supporting the backs of your knees. Feel free to use any other support that would allow the body to rest comfortably.
Let your breath begin to deepen without any strain or force. Tuning into your normal, natural breath pattern.
First, let your attention move to the pelvic floor. Imagine the space just in front of your spinal column running from the pelvic floor to your throat. This is the Sushumna Nadi: an energetic superhighway that allows Prana to flow through all the different parts of your body. Think of it as the great river. Imagine your breath as a stream of water flowing freely along this major energy channel. Notice if there are places where your breath becomes stuck or jagged. Can you smooth out the rough patches? Notice where you feel a freedom of movement in your breath along this pathway?
From the Sushumna nadi, run a series of smaller nadis. Think of these as nerves, vessels, meridians or ducts. Continuing to see your breath as a ball of light, breathe in through your nostrils in a single stream and then it branches off of the Sushumna nadi and spreads to the different parts of your body. As your breath flows out, you can imagine these small tributaries of energy moving up and out carrying your attention beyond your body.
In addition, to the Sushmna nadi, there are two main energy channels called the Ida nadi and Pingala nadi. The Ida nadi begins and ends on the left side of your body. The Pingala nadi resides on the right side of your body. The channels criss-cross the Sushumna in a double helix pattern.
Visualizing Alternate Nostril Breathing
Bring your attention to the left nostril. Inhale your breath through the left nostril and visualize the flow of your breath down the left side of your body. Hold the breath in. Feel the prana growing in intensity. As you breathe out, let the flow of breath travel up the right side of your body.
Inhale right nostril, allow the breath to flow down the right side of your body. Hold and feel the Prana swirling and churning within the body. Exhale the breath up the left side of your body out through the left nostril. Repeat for 5 more cycles. Notice the effects of your practice.
During this practice you may notice that within the subtle energy channels you encounter a knot or blockage. These are called granthis in Sanskrit. As we let our breath flow from source, we can use this current to break apart or break through these obstructions. You can imagine as the rivers and streams begin to thaw, there is a flood of water rushing towards the sea. The force of water has the potential to move logs, debris and rocks out of its path. Our breath can serve as a similar force in overcoming obstacles.
The Inner Tradition of Yoga by Michael Stone
The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work by Donna Farhi
Meditation for the Love of It by Sally Kempton