People are often surprised to learn that I am a yoga teacher (RYT 200). They are also surprised to know that I’ve been teaching for over fifteen years and that I was Iyanger teacher-trained in a temple. The trainings were very vigorous, intense and almost broke me a time or two. I know that doesn’t sound very yoga-like but there can be some serious elements in the training side. While this may not seem like a Zen experience one would hope to gain from yoga, it was incredibility enlightening and coming out on the other side, I reflect back on how much I’ve learned.
While I still have a long journey ahead of me—we never really finish learning—there are many lessons that I am grateful to have absorbed. The first is breath work, or Pranayama. Believe it or not, we can enter into a yogic experience just by doing breathing exercises.
Breath is the life force that not only sustains our lives but is also the root of yoga. Doing Asana (yoga poses) is our way of opening up areas of our bodies so that breath can reach in and heal, strengthen, enlighten and revitalize. Some who do yoga think of it as a good stretch or yes, cardio activity. Though those are accurate benefits, yoga really is about breath work.
“The breath is a mirror for your mind.”
Pranayama is a word that is used to describe various “exercises” that focus on the breath and all the benefits that come with deep and open breathing. One of the areas that we often see positively affected by breath work is our mind. The breath and the mind are interconnected. Of course we know about how breathing and the brain are intertwined but I want to talk about the mind for a moment (technically the same, but let’s focus on the thinking aspect).
When we employ breath work, it will help us clear out the fog and increase our focus. It helps us concentrate, calm our anxiety, heighten our productivity, support our processing, bring us clarity and impart our creativity, not to mention opening up the mind to answers and directives. In other words, breath gives us power and we can use this powerful life force for the good of others and ourselves. Kind of like a super hero nestled within us.
Using our breath in new and mindful ways will also help us work better with others. Think about how many times you’ve heard someone say “take a deep breath” before you react, give a speech or ask for that promotion. There is something calming and focusing about this practice and our minds are incredibly grateful for it.
There is so much more that I could write on “breath” and Pranayama, but I thought I would close this article with a simple breath technique that I find incredibly helpful in getting my thoughts focused and calming me, especially when I can’t fall asleep. One cautionary note: if you have any health, heart, respiratory issues or anything that may put you at risk, please refrain from this exercise or speak with your physician about Pranayama options.
Three Part Breath
- Inhale deeply through the nostrils for four counts;
- Hold breath for eight counts;
- Release breath through the mouth for seven counts;
- Repeat this process three to five times.
Kim Monaghan, PCC, RYT, CPBS is the owner of KBM Coaching & Consulting LLC, a boutique Human Resources Consulting and Career Coaching Firm serving a national clientele.