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Using Breathe to Stay Grounded

by Jo Wilkie

Pranayama is an integral part of any Yoga practice. In Yoga class, we often focus on Ujjayi breathing during our active practice and perhaps practice other Pranayama techniques at the beginning or end of class. Like all the limbs of Yoga, Pranayama, too, is a powerful tool to have in your hip pocket in everyday life.

Take situations where you might, say, be under some stress.

Physically, when we are anxious or experiencing high levels of stress, our bodies react as if we are in an emergency situation (fight or flight). One of the hallmarks of our body’s response is shallow breathing and tightening of the abdomen. The quickest, most sure-fire way to reduce anxiety and stress is to control the breath, which sends a signal to the body that the emergency is over.

The easiest breathing pattern to learn and remember is the three-part Yogic breath (also known as Dirgha breath). When first learning the three-part breath, it is much easier to feel what’s happening in your body when you are lying down. So begin by lying comfortably on your back.

Place your hands over your lower abdomen, so you can feel the breath moving into your body.

1. Begin inhaling into the lower abdomen, feeling your hand rise with the breath.

2. When you have filled your abdomen, move the inhale into the rib cage area, filling the mid-lungs completely.

3. Finally, inhale into the upper chest, filling the lungs all the way to the collar bones.

4. To exhale, begin by exhaling the upper chest first, then the mid-lungs (rib cage) area, and finally, the abdomen, pulling the navel in slightly as you exhale to encourage a full exhalation.

When in a stress situation and you feel your body begin to tense up, just focus on breathing as deeply and completely as possible, allowing the belly and the diaphram to release. Practicing the three-part breath regularly will give your body a “memory” of what it feels like to breathe deeply and completely, which in turn will create a quicker response on your body’s part.

During my time in the hospital, I was so grateful for this practice. I used the three part breath before the procedure to calm myself and relax, knowing that being stressed and tense before and during the procedure would compromise my system.

Give it a try. Even if you never find yourself experiencing a stress-response (lucky you!), practicing the three-part Yogic breath oxygenates the blood, clears the cobwebs from the mind, and enhances digestion.

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