So basic, so common-place, yet so unconscious. Even our cliché about how easy something is to do, is referred to as “natural as breathing”. And yet, conscious breath is an untapped well-spring of enormous benefit.
By regulating breath, known as Pranayama or ‘the control of life force energy” in the science of Yoga, one can stimulate the balance of powerful hormones in our bodies. For example:
- Dopamine buildup can lead to depression and an increase in appetite. As a result, we seek to eat as a way to comfort ourselves.
- Or, we might eat simple carbohydrates as a way to make up for a drop of Serotonin in our bodies.
- When Serotonin levels increase, replacing the Dopamine, we feel alert and happy.
- This in turn assists in the production of Melatonin, which allows us to sleep better.
- Proper sleeping patterns help curb our hunger cravings.
- Sufficient sleep too, plays a vital role in appetite regulation. Not enough sleep = more food consumption to keep the body awake and moving.
It is not to say that Pranayama Breath Control will help you to curb all desire to eat, but this cycle assists in the proper balance of what is nutritious and helpful vs. a desire to feed a sense of lack that we can all feel sometimes. Breath can help to balance these vital hormone levels, increase organ function and cellular exchange overall, help to improve digestion, and just as importantly, healthy elimination.
In Kundalini yoga, we address the mental and physical states of well-being simultaneously. One simple and effective way to do this is by following easy Pranayama breath patterns that will simultaneously relax your body, reduce anxiety & decrease your stress levels, while gently energizing your alert, mental state.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
- From sitting in a comfortable position, lengthen the spine upwards and downwards simultaneously. Feel your tailbone reaching into the earth as the top of your head lifts to the Infinite as if suspended by a string. (You may wish to sit on the edge of a pillow or blanket to assist this posture if you are unaccustomed to sitting straight for any length of time.)
- Gently close your eyes and bring your right hand up to cup your nostrils. The right thumb will be resting near the right nostril, the left ring finger and pinky by the left nostril.
- Close the left side and inhale through the right nostril to a slow count of 4. At the top of this breath, close the right nostril, retaining the breath for a slow count of 4.
- Open the left nostril, exhale out of this side on the same 4 count, and then inhale on a 4 count, closing the left nostril, and retaining the breath for a count of 4 before opening the right nostril and exhaling through this side.
- Inhale and repeat the cycle. When you can, gently increase your time count to 6, 8 or beyond, going only as long and deep as you comfortably can.
Breathe in this manner for at least a minute initially, but work up to several minutes for maximum benefit. Your capacity will improve with practice.
As you become proficient in this form of breath, you can find your breath deepening to the point of much longer inhales, exhales and holds. But the important thing is the balance of the breath. This is not an endurance race!
This balance is what assists in proper left/right hemisphere brain functioning, your body’s hormonal regulation and ultimately will give you a deeper sense of alert relaxation and calm.
Be aware– do not practice this breath with extreme congestion as forcing the breath is a no-no. And, during pregnancy, breath holding is not to be practiced at all. Instead, follow the pattern without the holds. Simply count the breath in, switching sides to exhale to this count, inhaling in this side, and switching nostrils as you exhale.
Pranayama practice is simple, safe & oh so effective. Sat Nam!