Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Just Breathe

"Breathe, breathe in the air." Waters, Wright, & Gilmour

October brings a cool, crisp feeling into the air, deeply breathing in and out consciously enlivens the soul and connects us to the constancy of change. This season is burning red, vibrant orange, and golden yellow. There is so much beauty to take in, it is a multiple sensory experience of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.  Fall is for celebrating a full harvest moon, reaping the benefits of sweet, sharp apples and buttery, sugar pumpkins, gazing into the burning blaze of a fire, feeling the warmth, and settling into autumn delight. We enjoy friends, family and seasonal transitions as the earth prepares for winter.

Spending active, quality time in nature especially in the fall is a glorious experience. Once the body begins to move in rhythm, the breath follows.

In yoga, the breath is the spark of the practice. Every movement and sensation is guided by the quality of the breath.  Riding the breath like a wave, focusing on the deepening, tide-like movement of air in and out of the lungs, unites mind, body and breath.

Noticing the breath, acknowledging its presence in our life, we can allow it to help us through challenging moments and re-direct our awareness into this moment, making an effort towards mindful living.

Breathe: To inhale and exhale air naturally and freely. To be alive. To pause, to rest or regain breath. To move, or blow air gently. To allow air to pass through. To be manifested or suggested, as an idea or feeling. To reach fullness of flavor and aroma through exposure to air.

Pranayama is a sanskrit word meaning "extension of the life force." Prana is the life force or vital energy and Yama is to extend or draw out.  There are three functions of breathing, inhalation or puraka, exhalation or rechaka, and retention or kumbhaka.  The lungs are the organs that function during the cycle of breath, the diaphragm is a large muscle below the lungs that contracts during inhale and relaxes during exhale. Holding or retaining the breath increases carbon dioxide levels in the blood, raises the internal temperature, and increases the absorption of oxygen. Preferably, the inhale and exhale is practiced through the nostrils with the mouth closed, as long as there is no congestion. The muscles of the face are soft and relaxed, particularly the muscles of the mouth and throat remain easeful.

The spine must be uplifted, alive and strong so the muscles of the respiratory system and diaphragm can function properly and freely. In order to do this, find a comfortable seated position. An easy cross-legged position or sitting on the heels, use of a pillow or block is helpful to maintain spinal alignment. To inhale is a passive motion and to exhale is an active motion. The movement of inhalation is an "undoing"movement in which tension is released.  The body must be relaxed so that the lungs can receive the inflow of air. Exhale completely, let go and surrender the weight of the body to sink towards the ground.

~ Dirgha Breath or Simple Deep Breathing ~

Bring awareness to your natural flow of breath, inhaling and exhaling. Notice the parts of the body that expand and contract as you move the breath. As the upper body rises to meet the inhalation, feel the upper chest lift and the rib cage expand. Pull the breath into the belly, feel the fullness of the breath at the base of the spine, hold or retain the breath in the body for one to two seconds. Feel the energy, the life force circulate and permeate your body and mind from the inside out, then release the breath. As you exhale, the breath moves along the spine up and out, the lower body softens, rooting the pelvis closer to the earth. The Dirgha breath or three-part breath is engaged as the body moves into a rhythm connecting the presence of mind to the breath. On the inhale, the upper chest, the upper back, and the rib cage expands and lifts.  The breath is slowly pulled into the base of the spine, filling the abdomen and low back.  The momentary retention of breath occurs and then the exhale moves up and out along the spine. This is the whole body breathing.

~ Ujayii Breath or Ocean Breath ~

From a place of focus and connection to a simple deep breath, there is a layer of inner vibration or sound that can be created using a gentle constriction of the back of the throat upon the exhale. Building on the principles of simple deep breathing or the Dirgha three-part breath, pull the breath into both nostrils and into the back of the throat. The upper chest, rib cage and abdomen fill with breath, hold the breath for one to two seconds and feel the energy circulate. Your lungs are full of breath and the back of the body is widened. Softly and slowly exhale and release the breath from the base of the spine, relaxing the rib cage and softening the upper chest. Gently pressing the tip of the tongue towards the back of the front teeth, the exhale occurs through both nostrils as the throat constricts. There will be a slight hissing sound as the breath escapes the body. This is deeply relaxing and the cycle begins again.  Imagine calm waves moving onto shore as you inhale and as you exhale visualize the pull of the tide drawing the water back out to sea.

Any time taken to sit quietly and rejoice in the power of the breath to restore a sense of calm and ease to the mind and body is time well spent. One minute, five minutes, twenty minutes or more, connecting to breath or moving in sync with the breath unites the mind and body, allowing a greater sense of connection to self, to others and to the universe. 

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