Pranayama. Just breathe.

We all know that breathing is vital to our basic survival. For most of us, it is just something that happens. We don't really give it much thought. We just know that if we don't do it, we won't have much to worry about.  

In my studies of stress management, one of the best tension reduction techniques I have learned for myself is the art of breathing or Pranayama. And, yes, it really is an art.

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning "extension of the prana or breath". It is a yogic discipline with origins in ancient India. However, it is widely regarded today as an effective treatment of stress-related disorders.

When done in a concentrated way, pranayama can relieve stress, create a sense of relaxation and calm or actually increase energy. Just think of all the times we were nervous about something and someone told us to "take a deep breath" or when we were in the middle of a really tough workout and the trainer said "just breathe". 

In the practice of pranayama, one sits and focuses on the breath and the effect on the body. A few of my favourite techniques that are commonly practiced include: 

  • Bhastrika - "bellows breath" increases energy and invigorates the mind.
  • Ujjayi -  "ocean-sounding breath" is balancing and relaxing.
  • Nadi shodhana - "alternate-nostril breath" releases tension and fatigue.

I learned these methods and more when I took a course at the Art of Living in NYC, in my studies at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and during yoga teacher training at the Joschi Institute in NY. It is really important to learn these techniques from someone who has received proper training because each technique has different contraindications. On that note, here are just a few tools that I referred to when I was first learning: 

Article - Breath Control

Book - The Healing Power of the Breath

Course - Art of Living Happiness Course - Learn Breathing Techniques/Sadarshan Kriya

DVD - Inward Diving - An Introduction to Pranayama