Updated: Nov 13, 2019
There are many breath control techniques but for the purpose of this blog, I'm going to focus on alternative nostril breathing.
What is it?
Pranayama is a yogic breath practice that increases our awareness of the physical movement of breathing. Breathing is an autonomic function - meaning it happens whether we notice or not. But when we focus on the sensations, movement & function of it, something magical happens. You enter a meditative state by tapping into your central nervous system (CNS) reversing the effects of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones which happen to block our ‘happy hormones’) and turning them into endorphins (our feel good hormones). We do this by, firstly inhaling deeply, allowing the lungs to bring oxygen to the body. As we exhale fully, we release the waste products of this process (carbon dioxide). This process slows the rate of breathing as well as your heart rate. Helping you to feel more...relaxed!
When the breath is shallow & fast and the heart rate is increased - this stimulates the release of our stress hormones. Which then has a knock on affect to our thoughts, behaviours, physical feelings and emotions. We’ve entered the ‘flight or fight’ state - a useful mechanism when we lived in caves and were on the run from lions, tigers and bears (oh my!). But nowadays, we are rarely under such threat, however, our brains are unable to differentiate between real and perceived danger.
When to do it
Anytime! Essentially, you can do it anywhere...you just need to bring yourself into a comfortable position. Seated, standing or lying down. You can do it first thing in the morning, add a little intention for your day or perhaps a positive affirmation to start your day. It’s an amazing way to end your day - to let go of all that’s happened, what went well? What could you have done differently? You can use it to combat your thoughts and feelings of stress, taking 10 or so breaths to just check in with your body again can be a great coping technique for when you are experiencing anxiety. It’s your breath to enjoy!
When to avoid
The only contradiction with breath control techniques is breath retention in pregnancy - this must be avoided. Breath retention is when the breath is held in-between the inhale and exhale. This is avoidable during pregnancy due to the increased pressure on the blood supply to the womb.
How to do it
It‘s straightforward, we do it all the time anyway, right?! Well yes and no. No physical practice of yoga is ever the same, it’s equally true for pranayama. Sometimes, it’s very straightforward to drop into the state of clearing your mind and focusing on your breath. Other times, there‘s a tornado of thoughts going around of minds; ‘am I doing it right?’, ‘Is my baby ok?’, ‘Can I hear them crying?’, ‘Ugh, this is pointless’...and so on. Accepting the challenges are part of the practice can make it more straightforward. As a wonderful yogi reminds us “all you gotta do is bring the breath” - Adriene Mishler.
Just taking time to focus on the breath; observing if the breath is shallow, deep, slow or fast? are you holding your breath after inhaling? Are you exhaling through the nose or mouth? It’s just noticing the breath. No right or wrong. Just notice.
You can also use visualisation to support you with this practice. Our breath can sound like tide of the sea gently lapping the shore. The video below was taken at my local beach one evening - you can use it to sync your inhale and exhale, and see how it feels. You can also practice various breath control techniques but below I’ve outlined alternate nostril breathing or Nadi Shodhana.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Take the thumb & ring finger of either hand and proceed to seal one nostril using your thumb.
Inhaling through the open nostril then close that side with your ring finger.
Then release your thumb and take a long exhale through the opposite side.
Now inhale through the open side, seal with your thumb, release your ring finger and exhale.
Keep this pattern going for a least 10 breaths (or longer if you wish). It also helps ease headaches and sinus pain.
I’ve included a video to demonstrate it. You can also find a video of Lions Breath in the previous blog. It‘s another breath control technique perfect for pregnancy and beyond.
Let me know how you find these techniques, what works well for you? Are there any others you enjoy or practice regularly?
The light in me, honours the light in you,