“The main problem in the world is stress. It is not going to decrease—it is going to increase. If through pranayam the shock can be harnessed, the entire stress and disease can be eliminated”
Yogic Breathing for Stress Relief: Pranayam
Yogic breathing is the first line of defense again stress and anxiety.
As a Kundalini yoga teacher (as taught by Yogi Bhajan) I have noticed that most people do not breathe correctly. Breath patterns that create shallow, erratic, upper-chest breathing are common and impact how we think, feel, and act. Stress and excessive mental focus draw us away from deep breathing and breath awareness thus adding to an unbalanced autonomic nervous system.
Breathing comes so naturally that we do not typically think about it, and yet conscious breathing is key to health, healing, and transformation. Yogis, Ancient Greeks, and virtually all the Wisdom Traditions understood that breath is more than a combination of oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and a host of other elements; air has a subtle quality connected to the life force energy–prana. To inspire, in spirit, inspiration, aspire all come from the Latin origin spirare. Respiration has the same Latin root, which means “to breathe.”
The “Science of Breath” is known in yogic science as pranayam
The conscious control of the inhalation and exhalation of breath. By controlling the movement of breath using specific yogic techniques, one controls the flow of prana, the life force energy. In Chinese, qi (chi) is the same energy, as in Qi Gong, the movement of the life force energy. Apana, prana’s counterpart, is the eliminating force of nature. There are five aspects of prana, click the icon for more information. Prana is not the same as the breath, yogic science teaches that prana rides of the wave of the breath, and it’s natural home is at the heart center. As long as there is breath left within you, you can begin to learn and master the basics of pranayam.
When you learn to control the breath by breathing consciously, you are also learning to master the mind. Breath and mental control are the two essential components of increasing heart coherence. Proper breathing and breath control is the number one factor in managing stress and improving heart coherence. Pranayam is the first line of defense against stress.
The second factor in reducing stress and improving heart coherence is control of your mental focus and patterns. Breath and meditation combined is a powerful combination to healing by optimizing heart coherence.Learning how to breath correctly and applying awareness to breath patterns will increase health, vitality, and being more connected to others and life. Controlling the breath helps to master the mind, together they form the path to heart coherence.
If you can breath, then you can do yoga
Several basic breathing techniques are described in 11-Minute Meds™. Once you select a meditation that you want to master and practice for the recommended 40 days, or more, you can come back to this section to learn more about the specifics.
“One thing you have as a gift—the breath of life. Pawan Guru in the breath of life is the source of knowledge, all wisdom, all beauty, and all opportunities,” (Yogi Bhajan).
Long Deep Breathing: the Cornerstone of Pranayam
Long Deep Breathing uses the maximum capacity of the lungs by filling the three distinct areas of the lungs:
Heart Center or middle
Clavicular or upper
Long Deep Breathing begins by filling the abdomen and opening up the belly, then expanding the area around the heart, and finally lifting the upper ribs and clavicle. The exhale is the reverse: begin the exhale at the clavicle, then the middle, and lastly the abdomen pulls in as the navel point pulls back toward the spine.
To begin practicing, sit straight on the floor, in a chair, or lie on the back. Place the left hand on the belly and the right hand at the heart center to feel the movement of the diaphragm.
Sit with a straight spine so that the ribs and muscles can move freely.
Begin the inhale with an Abdominal Breath, open up the belly and breath into it. Then add the Heart Center and finish by bringing the breath up to the collar bone, or clavicle. Feel the rib cage expand out, up, and down allowing your lungs to completely fill.
Reverse the process as you begin to exhale beginning at the collar bone and working down to the belly.
AIl three segments are done in a smooth flow and together they form the yogic breath of Long Deep Breathing.
Benefits of Long Deep Breathing:
- Increases heart coherence and optimizes HRV
- Relaxes & calms, due to influence on parasympathetic nervous system.
- Helps lowers blood pressure when high, due to influence on parasympathetic nervous system.
- Stimulates the release of endorphins (brain chemicals) that help fight depression
- Increases flow of prana-the life force energy.
- Reduces toxins
- Pumps spinal fluid to brain
- Stimulates Pitu.\itary Gland
- Adjusts Bio-magnetic field
- Cleanses blood by increasing circulation of oxygen and prana
- Regulates body’s pH (acid-akaline balance)
- Energizes and Increases Vitality
- Aids in healing the body and mind.
- Activates/Clear nerve channels
- Speeds up emotional/physical healing
- Helps Pain Management
- Manages negativity by breaking up subconscious patterns created by fears and insecurities
Breath Frequency: How Many Breaths per Minute
8 cycles per minute: relaxing and stress relief. Parasympathetic nervous system begins to be influenced.
4 cycles per minute: shifts in mental function. Increased feelings of awareness, visual clarity, heightened body sensitivity.
1 cycle per minute: optimized cooperation between brain hemispheres. Dramatic calming of anxiety, fear, worry. The whole brain works. Opens intuition.
Breath Ratios: Breathing in Strokes
Breathing in strokes means breathing in segmented breaths of equal duration. Think of a segment as a “sniff”. There is a distinct beginning and ending with ever so subtle space in between each breath.
4 strokes in / 1 stroke out: healing, energizing, uplifting
4 strokes in / 4 strokes out: clarity, alertness, triggering glands
8 strokes in / 8 strokes out: calming centering
8 strokes in / 4 strokes out: focusing, energizing
4 strokes in / 8 strokes out: calming, unblocking, letting go
When you master the one minute breath, you will master yourself. You will gain mastery over the daily stressors that come at you with calm and ease. Be patient with yourself and start slowly and build up to it. Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed and settle in for a few minutes. You may want to tune in with the Adi Mantra (Ong namo, guru dev, namo) to center yourself and call upon the teacher, or guru, within.
20 seconds to inhale (begin with 5 seconds, and build slowly)
20 seconds hold (begin with 5 seconds, and build slowly)
20 seconds to exhale (begin with 5 seconds, and build slowly)
Smooth, even, controlled. Be patient! It takes practice. If you find that you can’t quite keep the segments equal, then reduce the number of seconds for each segment–it is important the keep the inhale, suspension, and exhale the same duration.
- Optimized cooperation between the right and left brain hemispheres
- Dramatic calming of anxiety, fear and worry
- Openness to feeling one’s presence and the presence of spirit
- Intuition develops
- The whole brain works, especially the old brain and the frontal hemispheres
Ocean Breath or Conqueror’s Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)
Ujjayi is also known as “Ocean Breath” because of the sound that is made in the back of the throat and nasal cavity while inhaling and exhaling. The ocean sound is made by narrowing the throat passage during breathing.
To learn what it sounds like, open your mouth and exhale as if you were trying to fog up a mirror. The breath will sound like the ocean if you use your imagination.
Once you get the idea, begin the technique through the nose by gently narrowing the throat.
Pranayam and the Effects on Heart Coherence:
The example of Ocean Breath will be used to demonstrate the effects of this powerful technique has on heart coherence.
In the graph above, the author was practicing Ocean Sounding Breath while sitting with a straight spine and eyes closed. This can be done as an 11-Minute Med™.