Monday, 23 February 2015
Self care practices
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This week .. a brief Meditative Exercise that is deeply relaxing and refreshing for mind and body.
Have you noticed how often you hold your breath?
When squeezing past a table of people, we hold our breath. When navigating a difficult pathway on our bike, we hold our breath. When angry, we hold our breath. When we are startled by a beautiful view or object, we hold our breath. When we are doing something that requires total attention and focus, we often momentarily hold our breath.
Total attention of our whole self .. draws all of our energy into that moment.
As yogis have known for centuries (and medical science is now starting to discover) the breath has a direct correlation with activities of the mind. Pranayama (Sanskrit word meaning 'extension of the prana or breath') is a yogic discipline of controlling the breath which the yogis found could alter their state of mind. Scientifically, by slowing and regulating the rhythm of the breath, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system, our bodies natural biological mechanism for soothing and calming.
The process of respiration includes inhalation and exhalation ~ and between these two points the breath naturally stops moving for just a moment. This is often referred to as the 'gap' or 'pause' and in meditation provides us with the deepest point of stillness and peacefulness in our practice.
So each breath cycle really has four parts - inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause - and unless we are deeply relaxed or consciously observing the pause, we often don't register that they are there. Kumbhaka is a deep form of breath exercise that draws our attention to the PAUSE .. as we cease the breath momentarily at the end of the inhalation and exhalation for the period of the exercise. This resting of the breath is said to regulate the racing and overactive qualities of the mind, leading to a sacred state of clarity and increased concentration.
We can have a surprisingly positive influence on our mood and energy level by watching our breath for a few minutes, however in any exercise we should be wary of pushing or overdoing. Start with just a few rounds of breath, slowly cultivating a long practice over many days or weeks. Never force your breath to do anything that feels uncomfortable - this is vital - if you feel anxious or unsettled just return to your natural breath.
Suspended Breath Exercise
1. Get comfortable. Find a chair or posture that allows you to feel relaxed and safe, and where you are not going to be disturbed for a few minutes
2. Gently close your eyes and allow your body and mind to naturally slow down; and notice how your breath is right now .. fast, slow, agitated, relaxed? Just notice
3. Then, when your are feeling comfortable and at ease, on your next inhalation .. breathe in to the silent count of four (1-2-3-4)
4. And then gently hold your breath for the count of four (1-2-3-4) allowing this pause to be a quiet place of rest
5. Then release the breath, exhaling to the count of four (1-2-3-4)
6. And again, hold your breath for the count of four (1,2,3,4) .. aware of being gently, and consciously, at ease
7. Continue with this version of breathing for a couple of breaths, observing how the breath feels at each stage - inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause
8. And finish by returning to your normal pattern of breathing and again observing how the breath has rounded and softened a little.
Smile and move forward with your day feeling a little lighter and fresher of mind and breath.