By The Spiritual Explorer | Published 28 May, 2016
Dear Spiritual Explorer: Can you advise me on the best breathing exercises to still my mind? Leslie P., Minneapolis, MN
Pranayama: Beyond the Fundamentals
Dear Leslie: Breathing exercises are another word for the classic yogic exercise of pranayama. Pranayama is “control of breath.” “Prana” is breath or vital energy in the body. On subtle levels, prana represents the energy responsible for life or life force. “Ayama” means control. So pranayama is control of breath. For a larger exposition of pranayama and breathing exercises, start by reading Richard Rosen’s book Pranayama: Beyond the Fundamentals.
In truth, almost any breathing exercise can still the mind if practiced correctly, although some of them are more conducive to stilling the mind. Some breathing exercises are used for purposes of increasing vitality, some are meant to quiet the mind, but the following exercises are designed especially to help bring you into a meditative state.
One of the best reasons for doing breathing exercises is that the movements of the diaphragm as your chest goes up and down can give you a head start to controlling your emotions. When you begin to establish control of your body through breathing exercises, you also begin to express that control when confronted with disturbing emotions. Suddenly, you are not at the whim of your reactions and have an opportunity to choose a higher road of responding.
It is also good to know that while doing breathing exercises your body and mind rapidly refocuses and calms down racing emotions and thoughts, that the additional oxygen added to your body also revitalizes you and you are apt to feel physically and mentally invigorated afterwards. However, it will not be that nervous energy that comes from focusing your mind on negativity or stress, but will leave you more apt to be able to handle those messy emotions and stresses.
The best 3 breathing exercises to still your mind are:
1. Basic Energy Enhancing Breath
Take in some natural breaths in a very relaxed way, remembering to puff your stomach out as the breath goes in and out, allowing your breath to come to the top of your head. Practice this for 3 or 4 breath cycles and then allow yourself to breathe naturally thorugh your nose for a few moments. Let the breath expand your chest and stomach. As soon as your lungs are filled wih this breath, close your mouth andhold your breath for 2 seconds and then release the breath through your mouth in one smooth exhalation. Continue to exhale until your lungs are completely empty. Embrace the emptiness of breath and then continue the cycle.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This breathing exercise is truly my favorite because you can do it quietly without sound and even though it involves placing your fingers upon your nostrils, you can train yourself to do it without using your hands. Breathe in one nostril while keeping the other nostril closed and then breathe out. Then reverse your hands and do it with the other nostril. This breathing exercise balances your autonomic nervous system and gives you great peace.
3. Murcha: The retaining breath
Draw a deep breath through your nose and guide it deeply into your body. Bend your neck, bringing your chin down to your chest if possible. Hold it as long as possible and then raise your head and exhale the breath. As soon as the breath is exhaled, repeat the cycle. Do not hold your breath longer than is comfortable.
All of these breaths should be done without overdoing them. At first, one might feel euphoric and want to continue on. However, breathing exercises are meant to be done with much discretion and sometimes a respected pranayama expert will advise you to employ a teacher before undertaking them. Overdoing breathing exercises can sometimes lead to excitability, the very opposite of what you are trying to achieve. As with every new exercise, approach breathing exercises with gentleness and ease.
If you have a question about “breathing exercises,” or anything else, you can write me at Ask The Spiritual Explorer.
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