In the yogic tradition, breath is the foundation of all life, the sustaining connection between body and spirit. A telling indicator of health and mood, breath puts us in closer touch with ourselves on every level. Through pranayama, or breath control, we can manage our emotions, gain clarity -- and take greater control of our lives. "The way you breathe is a metaphor for the way you live your life," says Amy Weintraub, Kripalu yoga-teacher mentor and author of Yoga for Depression. "Are you taking little sips of breath as though you don't deserve to take up space on the planet, or are you breathing full and standing tall?" Try these two pranayama exercises once a day or whenever you need to.
Ocean-Sounding Victory Breath
This calming breath, also known as ujjayi breath, has a settling effect on the central nervous system while increasing mental alertness and clarity -- making it very effective for those suffering from anxiety and depression, says Weintraub. "Even three ujjayi breaths can cause a complete paradigm shift in your mood. This is a great exercise to do before meditation or anytime to help reduce stress."
1. Inhale through your nostrils with a slight constriction at the back of your throat so the breath travels over the glottis, making a soft but audible sound. Think ocean waves rolling over pebbles. Imagine that you are actually breathing from the back of your throat.
2. Exhale through your nostrils, pulling the belly toward your spine. Empty your lungs completely. Begin again, slowly.
3. Continue to breathe deeply and audibly on the inhalation and exhalation. Allow the belly, the rib cage, and the upper chest to expand with each inhalation. Let the breath be like a lullaby to yourself.
The yogis understood the connection between breath and power. This energizing breath combines a spinal twist and vocal sounds to release tension and build energy. For an even more invigorating experience, try this breathing exercise outside first thing in the morning.
1. Bring your hands to your shoulders with your elbows pointed out. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width.
2. Twist to the left as you inhale, filling your lungs halfway, and then twist to the right as you complete the inhalation.
3. Twist left as you exhale, making a powerful "ha" sound as you extend your right arm forcefully to the left, like a punch.
4. Twist right to finish exhaling, again with a "ha," punching your left arm out to the right. Make the vocal sound from deep in your gut, not just from your throat.
5. Practice 10 full rounds, then relax, arms by your sides. Close your eyes; feel your awakened energy. Breathe normally.
Prana = energy or life force
Pranayama = breath control
Ujjayi = extended victory
Hara = belly, energy center
Text by Terri Trespicio