Like a wave, the breath is always moving and flowing. Sometimes smoothly and calmly like gentle waves on the beach, other times faster and more uneven like a stormy sea. Mostly we’re not even aware of the movement of the breath, and one of the great benefits of yoga is that it brings you to an awareness of the breath and with awareness comes an ability to bring the breath under your control, rather than the breath controlling you. And a huge advantage of bringing the breath under your control is that it can help to change your emotional state. Usually we use the breath to slow us down and help us relax, but changing the breath can also lift your spirits and energise you.
There are many breathing techniques (pranayama) in yoga, but one of my favourites is simply to lengthen the out-breath. Breathe in to a count of 1 or 2 and breath out to a count of 3 or 4. It slows the breath, calms the mind and relieves stress. A good one to try if you can’t get to sleep.
As with all breathing practices, start slowly and gently and revert to your normal breathing pattern if it becomes uncomfortable or you feel light-headed.
“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.
Breathing out, I know
as the in-breath grows deep,
the out-breath grows slow.
Breathing in makes me calm.
Breathing out brings me ease.
With the in-breath, I smile.
With the out-breath, I release.
Breathing in, there is only the present moment.
Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment.”
From: Present Moment Wonderful Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh
At this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and all the preparations for Christmas. Yoga gives us that breathing space to relax and recharge the batteries. In the classes before Christmas we’re focussing on de-stressing and relaxation, but at the same time enjoying a good stretch to release tension from the body. We’re also thinking about light – candle-flames, moonlight and stars. Visualising yourself warm and filled with light is a very nurturing and powerful thing to do, particularly when the days are so short.
Photo credit Spiritual Awakenings
Continuing our theme of exploring ways to relieve the stress of this busy time of year, this week we’re going to do the calming moon sequence and practice a breathing technique called alternate nostril breath (nadi sodanam). This brings us into balance, helps us to focus on the present moment and can lower blood pressure, so is a lovely breath to practice if you’re feeling a bit frazzled! Become more calm and peaceful.
“The secret lies in the present
– if you pay attention to the present,
you will be able to improve it.
And if you improve the present,
whatever happens afterwards will be better too.
Each day brings us Eternity”
From The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
Only for the brave or if you have your own private office!
You don’t have to go to such lengths to release stress during your working day. Just a few minutes stretching and some mindful breathing throughout your day will really help to break the pattern of stress and anxiety that can spiral out of control if we’re not careful. As we get busier towards Christmas, and the pace of life goes ever faster, we may think we have no time to relax, stretch and look after ourselves. But you don’t need long.
5 minute stress relief recipe
- 5 minutes of time
- Any quiet space, (loos are good :-)) **
- Shake your hands, arms, feet and legs. Really loosen the muscles and flick away stress and tension.
- Shrug your shoulders, holding them by your ears for a few seconds. Breathe out and release, letting go of tightness from the shoulders.
- Circle your hips, drawing a wide circle to release tension from the lower back.
- Breath of Arjuna – a dynamic, heart-opening, stress-relieving breath that we practice in Dru yoga.
- Belly breath in Mountain pose. Complete by grounding yourself in mountain pose and allow the breath to fill your abdomen, visualising any remaining tension being absorbed by the earth beneath you as you exhale.
A ‘you’ that is relaxed, refreshed and able to cope with whatever comes next in your life.
** If you don’t have a private space, either go out for a 5 minute walk, or focus on your breath for 5 minutes. You can practice mindful breathing anywhere – you don’t even have to close your eyes, just draw your attention inwards and count your breath in and out, consciously letting go of tension with each out breath.
Dru yoga breath of Arjuna
- Stand in mountain pose, with the knees relaxed
- Bring right hand in front of left at hip level
- Inhaling, draw both hands up the front of the body, as if pulling off a jumper
- Open the arms when the hands are above your head and exhale as you slowly lower them down by your sides, creating a big circle. Keep the elbows soft, and keep your hands in your peripheral vision. Bend the knees slightly as you lower the arms, but keep the body upright.
- Repeat, bringing left hand in front of right.
- Gradually allow the movement and the breath to slow down as you repeat a few times.
As you lower the arms, imagine letting go of any stress and anxieties.
“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher” – Pema Chodron.
Moving towards the season of goodwill, it sometimes seems anything but that. We get overwhelmed by everything we have to do and the stress levels rise. Shops are busy, with everyone rushing around, and we think ‘what on earth can I buy for Auntie Maud or the folks next door’. Instead of it being a pleasure to give, it becomes a chore and we end up even blaming them for being so difficult to buy for.
Yoga can help to relieve some of that stress and bring the goodwill back into the season, so we start to feel the joy of giving, not frustration.
Focusing on the heart is a powerful technique for developing feelings of generosity and gratitude, which in turn will make you feel happier. A posture which opens the heart and gives it a lovely massage is Utkatasana or ‘Chair of the Heart’. It also helps to generate heat, so a great one to warm you up if you’re feeling chilly. We’ll be practicing this posture with the Lotus mudra, which intensifies those feelings of generosity and compassion.
Tip: If someone’s getting you down, imagine them standing in front of you while you do the Chair of the Heart. Visualise your heart opening or glowing like a candle flame and send out feelings of love to them instead of anger, fear or frustration.
Apologies to those of you that love everything about Christmas!
In Dru yoga, we work with sequences of movements called Energy Block Release sequences. We’ll usually do part or all of one of these sequences each week. They are very effective in releasing tension from the body, which in turn helps to release stress from body and mind. From the Dru yoga book – Stillness in Motion:
“You are a powerhouse of energy, but blocks in your inner circuitry may mean that you are operating seriously below capacity. The EBR sequence helps clear away these blocks and re-open inner pathways. This enables you to leave behind past conditioning and gives rise to a clear, open mind that can respond to each situation in a new, creative way.”
A stream that gets blocked with leaves and twigs becomes turbulent, muddy and flows more slowly in places, creating pools of stagnant water. So it is with our energy pathways. If they become blocked, we’ll get more sluggish, emotional and dull. Like clearing leaves from a stream, clearing our energy pathways will make us refreshed, vibrant and glowing with health.