Stressed? Wired? Try this Ancient Breathing Technique for Better Health.

Ok. Unless you live off the grid or you chose to crawl into your cave recently, the holiday season IS here.  And this comes with more demands, festive obligations, end of year deadlines ….  need I say more?  Even the fun part of it comes with stress: finding that perfect dress for the office party, finding the perfect gift for your sweetheart, coordinating the pot luck, family reunions etc.  So I chose to talk about the Art of Breathing to help you get through all that and reduce your risk of illness or a total meltdown.

Stress and Wired? Mind Racing? Brain Fog? Headaches?

Pranayama is the expansion of the life force through control of the breath. Prana means life force and ayama means ascension, expansion and extension. In my last blogpost I stressed the importance of conscious breathing. Well, here you go! THIS in my experience is the most effective (and cost effective) way to clear my mind, calm me down and focus. It’s even eliminated my need for melatonin before bed during times of excessive stress.

Pranayama literally means “energy control” and is one of the eight limbs of yoga, a comprehensive healing system of Ayurvedic Medicine from India dating back to 6,000B.C.  So just like “Chi or Qi” is the life force and energy flow in Chinese medicine, “Prana” is the life force energy that sustains all living things.  And the breath is the major source of Prana and regulates its flow through the entire body (including the brain). Until I started to study Ayurveda, I thought it was just a simple nostril breathing practice. There are actually many different pranayama techniques for various purposes: slowing metabolism, speeding up metabolism, cooling the body, heating the body, resolving headaches and the list goes on.  Depending on your dosha type expressed in its current state (we call this Vikruti) a certain pranayama is prescribed to bring you back into balance.

So, if you are new to Ayurveda or I’m starting to lose you with all these foreign terms, come back! I’m going to give you a simple pranayama that balances all dosha types (aka mind-body types). You won’t go wrong with this one.  This technique is called “Nadi Shodhana” or “Alternate Nostril Breathing”.

Ideal position for Pranayama: Seated on floor cross-legged (or in a chair if necessary). You may place a cushion just under your tailbone to tilt your pelvis to help you stay upright. Keep your spine straight, chest slightly lifted and shoulders gently pulled back.  Your chin should be parallel to the floor.

Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique: Now, you will use your thumb and forefinger (choose your hand) to close one nostril at a time. Breathe in through your left nostril (plugging your right nostril). Hold your breath for few seconds (plug both nostrils) then exhale through your right nostril (unplug the right only).  Now repeat by breathing in through your right, hold then breathing out through your left. Keep going back and forth for a few minutes and you will start to let go and relax.  This technique balances the flow of blood to the brain and clears the upper nasal passages and sinuses. It also balances the sympathetic (fight or flight system) with the parasympathetic (calming, slows heart rate, activates digestion etc).

If you’re just too busy and can’t find the time to assume the position of pranayama, start with doing a few repetitions wherever and whenever you can: at your desk, on the toilet, in the bathtub. I’m serious! Every little bit counts.  It can be useful even with the steam while standing under a hot shower. The photo in this blogpost was taken at the Zen Resort in Bali last January during our morning meditation and pranayama with Dr. Vijay, the resident Ayurvedic physician. Your sacred place for meditation doesn’t have to be thousands of miles away however, a need for long distance travel in search for repose and rejuventation should include a stop at this sacred resort!

To understand more clearly the premise of Ayurveda and its practices such as this one, visit my page on Ayurveda by clicking HERE.

Happy breathing!

Dr. Melanie

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