By Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC
Pranayama, also known as breathing therapy, directly affects the mind-body through balancing the nervous system. Nervous system balancing benefits neuro-endocrine signalling, our cells, tissues, and organs, from head to toe, as the potent ripple effect of calm energy (expansion) replaces tension (contraction).
“Respect your uniqueness. Drop your comparison. Relax into your being.” – Rumi
Breathwork is an 'anchor' to focus on during meditation, which is an mindful, inner cultivation practice as the body-mind sits in stillness without external distractions. The practice of meditation involves awareness of the present moment, often with the help of an anchor (breathing, visualization, words, etc.), while observing thoughts and noises without judgement.
Benefits of Breathwork Meditation
Reduces pulse and blood pressure.
Raises efficiency of breathing.
Improves ability to solve problems, to concentrate, and self-control.
Helps to preserve the aging brain: Increased grey matter/cortical thickness and decreased amygdala
size in brain.
Reduced or enhanced functionality in neuro-endocrine connections.
Reduced stress, anxiety, fight or flight response.
Improved digestion, resilience, happiness, and much more.
How to do alternate nostril breathwork (Nadi Sodhana Pranayama):
Sodhana means cleansing in Sanskrit. This exercise cleanses and purifies the pathways of the meridians. Inhalation opens the Yin in the body, and nourishing deficient qi. The exhalation closes yang and can reduce excessive qi. It can also increase the flow of qi for soothing energy blockages or stagnation.
How Dr. Sara Gottfried explains alternate nostril breathing:
"In Sanskrit, it’s called Nadi Shodhana, and yogis have been performing it for thousands of years. It’s only recently that we Westerners have learned that breathing unilaterally through the right nostril activates the sympathetic nervous system and left hemisphere of the brain, and that unilaterally breathing through the left nostril activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation response) and right hemisphere of the brain."
When I can’t sleep at night, I do 10 rounds of left-nostril breathing to calm my nervous system (as measured by heart rate variability). Unilaterally breathing through the left nostril works by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest-and-digest response, and the right hemisphere of the brain. Cover your right nostril, and inhale through your left nostril for a slow count to five. Exhale through your left nostril. Repeat five to ten times, or for best results, continue for three to eleven minutes."
This is an energetically neutral practice. Aim for 5 – 15 minutes in the morning and in the evening, on an empty stomach.
1) Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back. The back of the left hand rests on the knee.
2) Use the ring finger and thumb of the right or left hand to alternately block the nostrils.
3) Start by blocking the right nostril at the bridge of the nose. Exhale completely out the left. Inhale through the left for 8 - 10 counts, exhale out the right for 8 - 10 counts. Inhale through the right for 8 - 10, exhale out the left for 8 - 10. This is one cycle.
4) Complete 8 – 10 cycles, 1 - 2 times per day.
Nadi Sodhana to increase yin in the body
Just 15 min per day can eliminate menopausal symptoms, which is a state of yin deficiency according to Chinese medicine. Its calming effect on the nervous system and balancing effect on hormones is quick and usually its only side effect is greater mental and emotional equilibrium. Aim for 5 – 15 minutes in the morning and in the evening, on an empty stomach.
1) Find a comfortable seated position.
2) Start by blocking the right nostril at the bridge of the nose. Breathe in the left nostril for a count of 8. At the top of the breath retain the breath for a count of 8.
3) Exhale out the right. Inhale in the right for a count of 8, retain the breath for 8, exhale out the left.
4) This is one cycle. Repeat for 10 or more.
“Practicing a regular, mindful breathing exercise can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.” -
Andrew Weil, M.D
Tranquilizing Breathing Practice
1) Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Breathe in for 4 counts through your nose.
2) Hold your breath for 7 counts.
3) Quietly breathe out for 8 counts through your mouth.
Repeat 4 - 8 cycles, 1 - 2 times per day.
1) Breathe in for four counts through your nose.
2) Hold for four counts.
3) Breathe out for four counts through your nose or mouth.
4) Hold for four counts.
Repeat steps 1 – 4 for 5 – 20 minutes per day.
”I breathe in peace, I breathe out calm. Peace. Calm.”
My favourite mantra/meditation, adapted from “The Last Best Cure” by Donna Jackson
May I be love, love, and be loved.
May I be filled with compassion and kindness.
May I be safe and protected.
May I be happy and healthy.
May I be courageous and strong.
May my life unfold with ease.
”Take some quiet time for yourself. Turn down the volume and listen for the calm, still voice at your center. There. . . Isn’t that better?” ~ Daniel Grippo
- Pacific Rim College class notes, Energetics