The power of one breath never ceases to amaze me. I can be tightly wound, worried, or on alert, and one slow, deep breath, especially one into the back of my body, leaning back in my chair, or dropping into my heels, and I am on the path back to presence, moment-to-moment mindfulness, relief.
Our bodies want to be on guard and ready for anything; we are wired for survival. And the yogis discovered the most immediate toggle switch for our autonomic nervous system was our ability to control our breath. Breathing is a process that happens without us thinking, but reveals deeper levels of awareness the more we refine it.
We continue our journey through the eight limbs of yoga with prāṇāyāma, the fourth limb. This can show up in your asana practice with the instruction to valve your breath as you smoothly breath in and out (ujjayi, victorious breath), simply extending your inhales and/or exhales. You may be asked to extend your breath, or pause at the top and/or bottom of a breath. There are other more complicated practices, but working with breath length, ratio, and valving are the three main ways to learn to control your prāṇā, your vital life force.
I first committed to a regular prāṇāyāma practice when one of my teachers, Gary Kraftsow, when asked if prāṇāyāma could be dangerous, teased us by saying, no, because you won’t do it. I took that as a challenge and started to do a very simple practice every morning that showed me the profound difference even a short practice could make on my nervous system. I return to this practice a month ago when I noticed I wasn’t sleeping as well with the transition to fall (see below).
It’s been said a million times this year – we are in uncertain times. We’re going to just have to keep taking this one breath at a time.
Posted by: Anne Phyfe Palmer, 8 Limbs Founder & Director of Education & Programming
Looking for help this week with stress or anxiety around the election, pandemic, and ongoing social injustice?
- Join us for a free teacher panel this Friday on how yoga centers us in turbulent times
- Study the breath with The Art of Breathing II with Jenny Hayo
- Join our new Mindfulness Meditation Course with Brent Morton
- Take an at-home Fall Yoga Retreat with Melina Meza & Megan Sloan
- Study The Chakras with my teacher Shari Friedrichsen.