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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11 thoughts on “Breathing practices to find Peace in Pain”
This is really beautiful Nichola… the simplicity and power of the breath is something we all need to be focusing on more to help to bring contentment to our crazy lives xx
Thank you Jo. So simple! Breathing practices can transform how we feel, relatively quickly. The challenge is remembering to do them :) xx
This is so helpful. I have never thought of trying to use Ujjayi breathing before bed- what a great idea. I always associate it with yoga class, but I definitely tend to have a racing mind before bed. I am definitely going to try this! These explanations are wonderfully clear. Thank you so much for sharing them.
So glad you found it useful Caroline. Give it a try & let me know if it helps you or not. I find it helps create some space between my thoughts and me, helping me to relax.
Yes! I definitely want to try this. My in laws live near Perth and I’ll be up next week…
Oh great! It would be lovely to see you :) x
Thank you for this post Nicola which is so beautifully and generously written. Life is so full of ups and downs and I certainly have forgotten to breath properly over the last few months (though I am frequently showing others how but classic case of not following my own medicine!!) so it is a very needed reminder. Also, just visiting your beautiful site, reading these words makes me want to go ‘haaaaaaah’ and let go. It’s helping me to get back in to my yoga practice. x
Oh you are so very welcome, I’m happy you found it useful! Thank you for your feedback, that is the exact response I’m aiming for :). Keep going, small steps xx
Thank you for this beautifully written post Nichola. Most recently I have come to know the power of using the breathe and how it can heal, strengthen and release tension. Some years ago I got a tattoo that said “just breathe” and it’s a great reminder that in amongst life’s challenges and stressors we always have this most simple tool available to us and best of all, it’s free! The more people who know about the power of the breathe the better! Keep writing and sharing :) xo
Thank you Jenny! It really is amazing how simple practices can transform our health and wellbeing, remembering to do it is the hardest part, love your tattoo idea! x
Namaste….. Nichola – Hope you are well??