Life is a mixed bag. It brings us good times and bad. Times of ill-health, emotional suffering, restlessness and immense heart-opening joy. When life isn’t moving in the direction we want, this is the time we create tension, physical or emotional. And we may not even be aware of it.
If we pay attention to ourselves, notice our repetitive thoughts and tune into the way we feel physically, we can learn to read the signs our bodies give us moment to moment.
Perhaps your breath is shallow or your body feels constricted, your posture slumps, rounding your back, resulting in a concave chest and limiting the breath’s capacity to move freely and expand fully.
When we resist what is, our mental state becomes tense and this is when we can feel restless and uneasy. Emotional unease of this kind can lead to physical tension, commonly the neck, shoulders and stomach, often resulting in headaches, stiffness, aches and pains, poor digestion and so much more! By noticing our mental chatter, we can take action to turn things around, becoming able to feel happier, appreciate the small things in life, and seeing what’s working by letting the light in.
So whether you’re experiencing physical pain, emotional upset or a sense of restlessness here are some ways for you to support yourself through these times.
The beauty of your breath
I use breathing practices (Pranayama) regularly throughout my day when I can feel tension mounting or an over-active mind building.
For all of the following breathing practices, prepare by sitting tall, taking your awareness to your sitting bones, lifting up and lengthening through your spine. Move your weight until your sitting bones become heavier. Now move your attention to your breath and start to slow it down. Relax your face, neck, shoulders, moving your attention to each body part as you remind yourself to let go and relax.
Sukha Purvaka Pranayama – four-part breath
The Sanskrit word sukha means ‘easy’ or ‘pleasant’. Purvah means ‘that which precedes’. So Sukha Purvaka Pranayama means ‘the simple breath which must be mastered before proceeding to more difficult breathing practices’.
The four parts include inhale (Puraka), hold inhalation (Kumbhaka), exhale (Rechaka), hold exhalation (Shunyaka).
Breathe in and out through the nose. Begin by inhaling slowly for a count of 6, hold the breath for a count of 6, exhale slowly for a count of 6, hold the out breath for a count of 6.
This is one round. Repeat for another 6 rounds. (You can use your thumb to touch each finger tip to count each round).
End the practice by returning to your regular breath after the held exhale.
Another option is to use your pulse as the rhythm for the count. You can sit for 3 minutes, 5 or 10, however long you have. Just a couple of minutes could give you the space you need to change how you feel, to become calmer.
Once this practice becomes familiar, notice when tension creeps into your body, particularly when holding the breath. Consciously relax your body, gently reminding yourself to let go throughout the practice.
Ujjayi means ‘to conquer’ or ‘to be victorious’. This breath creates a soft, extended ‘hah’ sound, like the sound of the ocean.
To practise, inhale through your nose, then exhale slowly through a wide-open mouth. This is the sound we are aiming for with the mouth closed, breathing in and out through the nose, directing the breath into the back of the throat to create the soft hissing sound. As you breathe, let the abdomen expand on the inhale and fall on the exhale. Continue breathing with this soft sound.
Ujjayi Pranayama is a lovely practice to use. Sit for 5, 10, 15 minutes and then lie down to relax or to practise as you prepare to sleep. The sound of Ujjayi breath helps to slow the breath down; it helps us to focus on our breath, making it a beautiful meditative experience. It can also be used throughout the day for a couple of minutes to help calm the mind and ease tension.
In this practice, the breath is made up of three parts; controlled inhalations, controlled exhalations and holding the breath. When you do all three parts, it is called Sahita.
Inhale for 4. Hold for 16. Exhale for 8. Repeat for 3 to 5 rounds or more, depending on where you are and how much time you have.
This may feel more challenging, remember to keep the body relaxed, consciously reminding yourself to let go and soften, particularly during the retention of the breath. Keep the breath smooth and even throughout, letting the inhales in slowly, and the exhales out evenly.
What I love about these breathing practices is that you can use them throughout your day, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Whether you’re sat on a plane or train, at your desk, or in the privacy of your own home. Use them to focus your mind, preparing yourself to start work for the day, or giving yourself a mid-afternoon energy boost.
I wish for these suggestions to help you feel calm amongst the chaos, find peace in suffering, clarity among mental chatter, and strength in your own power to transform the negative. I hope you move through your fears and enjoy each day more fully with joy in your heart.
We could all benefit from a little more peace in our lives!
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know how this works for you. Do you have any tips to help you manage darker times?
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