“In the yoga tradition, the breath is said to carry a person's life force.”
Prana means life force or breath sustaining the body; Ayama translates as "to extend or draw out." Together two mean breath expansion or control. In short, Pranayama is the practice of breathing.
There are various breath exercise techniques:
Ujayyi, also known as victorious or oceanic breath utilized with asana/movement practices. Slightly constricting the throat and breathing in and out through the nose, creates an audible inhalation and exhalation like the sound of waves coming in and out onto the beach.
Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing, helps to calm the mind & nervous system & alleviate anxiety.
Kapalabhati, known as breath of fire is used to warm & heat up the body & promote digestion & detoxification within the body. Forced exhalation & passive inhalation.*
Bhastrika, known as bellows breath, like breath of fire but both the inhalation & exhalation are forced in & out of the body, creating a faster pace of breathing. Great for alleviating any respiratory issues.*
Dirga Pranayama, or Complete Breath or Three-Part Breath, is slow, deep & long breaths into the abdomen/belly, then rib cage, then upper chest & exhaling out in reverse order.
Breathwork - is like the Complete Breath but the inhalations and exhalations are circular (no pause between breaths)and through the mouth instead of the nose. The pace and fullness of the breath may increase during the breath practice. In general, it is recommended that the person is lying down on their backs in Shavasana or Resting position. There are many popular variations of breathwork such as Holotropic, Shamanic, Transformational, and Wim Hoff.
Main Benefits of Breathing:
Relaxes your nervous system
More calmness (and less anxiety/stress)
More self-acceptance (and less depression)
Enhances overall mental health
Improves immune function
Alkalizes your blood and decreases inflammation in the body
Enhances mental clarity and focus
More energy and vitality
Can result in a mystical experience or deep spiritual or psychological insights
Boosts feelings of joy and happiness
Feeling more connected with others
Increases mindfulness and appreciation of life
A teacher of mine once said, “You can shift how you feel in 7 breaths. Work on your Breath, Soften it, Stretch it, Pump it, Tend it, Love it, Follow it, Trust it. Your breath is your Key to Life!”
My first introduction to the practice of consciously breathing started with my yoga journey back in 2010. The 3 most common breathwork practices at that time for me were Ujayyi, Durga Pranayama, and Kapalabhati. I remember the first time I successfully engaged the Ujayyi breath during my entire yoga practice - my body and mind felt so fluid and relaxed and I could feel myself enter a deep flow state. Durga Pranayama is also a great way to start every yoga class, meditation, or your day in general. This breath attunes you to the present moment, consciously taking complete inhalations and exhalations, a deep sense of peace naturally envelops you. On the other hand, Kapalabhati is energizing and activating, a test of will power and strength utilized during the peak of a yoga practice or by itself to wake up and energize the body.
For the most part, however, my breathwork journey continued throughout the years very slowly. I went to my first breathwork event in 2016 but it wasn’t until 2017 or 2018 where I experienced the profound transformative power of a Breath practice. I was at Bhakti Fest, a yoga festival that used to happen every Fall out in Joshua Tree. I had already done 3 yoga classes that day and was ready to fully dive deep into this breath experience. I remember at the time I was also practicing my skill in Shamanic Journeying (the ability to travel with your consciousness to different planes of existence) and I decided during my breathwork to go up into the Upper Realm to connect with any spirit guides there. John Lennon all of the sudden greeted me and the message I received from him was that I could use sound and music to heal the world. Then, all of the sudden the facilitator began playing the John Lennon song Imagine. It was an amazing and mystical experience and from that point on, I knew that connecting to my breath in this way would be essential in my spiritual evolution and embodiment. Walking out from such an experience I felt awake, light as a feather and interconnected with everyone around me. Throughout the space around us was a feeling of immense peace.
The Breath continues to heal me and at this time in my life, I have been able to create a consistent 10-minute breath practice most mornings to start my day. In 2019, I began leading a workshop called Awakening Being where we practice breathwork and Shamanic Journeying, Sound Healing, and Energy Attunements. During an experience such as this, it is important to let everyone present know that they have permission to do whatever they need to do in order to move suppressed emotions or blocked energy out of their body.* It is ok to laugh, cry, yell, and shake. It is normal for parts of your body to feel paralyzed, numb or tingly and for your body temperature to change - it is all part of the healing process.
The first 5-10 minutes of continuous breathing may feel like the hardest part. To this day my mind will sometimes start complaining, “This is too hard. I can’t do this. I want to quit. I should give up. This is stupid. Why am I here? There is no point. This is a waste of time. Etc…” Like the launch of a spaceship fighting gravity to pass through Earth’s atmosphere and into the stars - it takes sheer willpower to overcome the forces of mental and emotional inertia. However, after this initial challenge, the breath begins to go into a rhythmic pattern. The unconscious mind begins to open up and memories from the past may start to come in. An inner voice may begin to speak which sounds quite different than the voice of the ego. Flashes of light may come into view as the eyelids remain closed and ideally covered with an eye mask. Physical tension and pain may begin to intensify but then resolve and release out of the body. Emotions of suppressed anger or sadness come to the surface. The consciousness may begin to spontaneously leave the body and travel to other places sometimes familiar and other times strange much like a lucid dream. Unknowingly, you may begin to fall into a deep hypnotic or yoga Nidra state where you are gently breathing in and out as if you were fast asleep yet, still aware of your surroundings. This extraordinary state of consciousness has been likened to psychedelic states and there are many similarities and yet, it is different in degree. The medicine used here is the breath - the Air Element which has its own unique and distinctive qualities. In such a paradigm, we are not just talking about the atoms of oxygen but Prana - the life force energy that permeates all of existence. What can make this such a powerful experience beyond the plant medicines or psychedelic substances used to expand, deepen and enhance awareness, is the fact, that it is the dynamic activation of one’s own Will and Power. It is easy when using a substance to give one’s power to the thing that is being used. However, in breathwork, even though the air is a substance outside of us, it is also within us and its medicinal effects are activated by our own Will to breathe! The power to heal the body, mind, and spirit is literally right underneath our nose!
For such an experience to occur, it is usually recommended to breathe like this for a period of 30 minutes to an hour. The breathwork can be split up into different rounds. After the breathwork is finished - the best part gets to happen which is the enjoyment of the benefits of your practice and the appreciation of everything that is happening within you. It is best to rest for 5-15 minutes minimum in the resting position before waking the body back up and beginning to move around. Journaling at this time is an amazing way to integrate the messages you received and the experience you had. The best part is that you will feel more alive than you have ever felt in a long time - especially if you are new to this practice. Remember to always have compassion and gratitude for yourself during your practice and you will truly get the most benefits out of your journey into the breath and out of your life.
“Breath is about Acceptance and the coming back to your original breath - a state of Consciousness that is the source of All that Is.”
***Energetic blockages are opportunities for Breakthroughs. Whether it be physical, emotional, or mental pain or a toxic situation in life. Our breath is the key to unlocking it. When we have blockages we are not only stopping new energy from coming into our lives but also wasting what energy we do have to hold on to the blockage in the first place. We have all heard of the common expression of carrying a heavyweight on your shoulder - reflect on how much of your energy is being taken up by carrying unnecessary mental and emotional weight. The tricky part is, most of this weight is carried at the unconscious level that our day-to-day mind seldom has access to. However, breathwork is a tool that gives us access to the unconscious. Once there, we get the opportunity to let go and release blockages hidden deep within ourselves. After letting go of the pain and trauma, we may enter a state of Liberation and Bliss what in the yoga tradition is called Moksha.
***Contraindications for Breath of Fire, Bellows Breath, or intense Breathwork is anyone with high or low blood pressure, history of stroke, heart disease, eyes, ears, or nose disorders, and recent abdominal surgery.
Love and Light,