I have been breathing since shortly after I was born, but I never really gave much thought to it until I started doing yoga a few decades ago, and there wasn’t much instruction. In fact, I was a mindless smoker for part of my younger, ignorant, addicted life.
Pranayama (breath work) is the 4th limb of yoga, right after asana (postures). A few of my yoga teachers have included pranayama techniques at the end of asana class. Awareness of where I feel my breath, feeling it down to my pubic bone, feeling it on the sides and back of my rib cage and in my lumbar area and between my shoulder blades, keeping my shoulders down, letting my diaphragm really expand downwards, moving the heart/lungs and liver/gallbladder/pancreas/stomach/spleen on either side of the diaphragm, increasing the movement of detoxifying lymph with each breath, being present with the energizing inhalation and the relaxing exhalation, noticing the pauses, noticing what happens in my chakras and in my whole being…
Some of the yogic breathing techniques that have stuck with me through the years are kapalabhati (breath of fire), a rapid bellows breathing that floods the body with cleansing, nourishing oxygen as well as increases motivation — and also prevents discomfort from my hiatal hernia, and nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), calming and believed to balance the hemispheres of the brain.
Were you aware that throughout the day, one of your nostrils is more open than the other, and that they periodically switch sides?
I practice these two techniques every day along with a more modern technique, 4-7-8 breathing, that was taught to Dr. Andrew Weil by his mentor, Dr. Robert Fulford, an American cranial osteopath/shaman (Wikipedia describes him as a pioneer in alternative and energetic medicine) who obviously had studied pranayam.
Dr. Weil recommends doing no more than four rounds of 4-7-8 breathing daily for a couple of months to train the nervous system to quickly move into a relaxed state. I notice that the main times I need to use it are when I’m driving and I narrowly avoid hitting something or being hit.
Another practice that’s not a technique (at least that I’ve ever heard of) is something that occurs in meditation. I call it “being breathed”. It occurs after settling the body and calming the mind, paradoxically by using the breath to relax by lengthening exhalations.
As relaxation/parasympathetic dominance increases, a gradual detachment from controlling the breath allows it to shift to operate on its own, automatically — as it does naturally when we’re not paying attention.
When you notice that your breath has become automatic — you aren’t doing anything to it or with it — you’re simply allowing it to do its thing — breathing becomes completely passive, occurring on its own, and observing it doesn’t change it — that’s what I call being breathed.
There’s a kind of awesomeness to this experience. I wonder if this is what Shri Krishnamacharya, founder of modern yoga, may have been referring to when he said pranayama could result in samadhi.
Am I experiencing samadhi? I don’t know. There’s a sense of oneness and a subtle sense of bliss that permeates. Namaste, my friends.
So that’s my current practice, doing three techniques daily that take 5 minutes, plus meditating (10 minutes with Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, and usually a few more in silence, breathing equally through nose and mouth with my tongue on my palate behind my upper teeth, a Kum Nye technique).