Breathing Calm Into Your Day with Urban Breath Yoga
You know when you’re in a meeting, and you suddenly let out a huge sigh and have no idea where it came from? Do you feel that 2:30pm brain block and reach for coffee? Have you ever realized you haven’t been breathing normally for the last 15 minutes?
Stress does weird things to the body, and no one knows that better than a magazine staff. Last Friday, we sat down with Madeleine Webb from Urban Breath Yoga for another session in our healthy office series. She walked us through pranayama techniques that help refresh the mind and ground the body when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Pranayama, or control of breath, helps you channel prana, aka the body’s vital energy.
It’s understandable that we would take something as basic as breathing for granted. But in doing so, we miss out on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of healthy breathing. Physically, it dredges up stale air, gives us a fresh dose of life force and detoxifies our body. According to Webb, we only take in 1/16th of the amount our lungs could be holding in any given day. If we make a point of getting more fresh air in our tank, it helps improve circulation and power our brains better. Mentally, the process of manipulating your breath requires full participation and helps ground you in the present moment. You’re focusing all of your attention on the movement of your body and breath to the point that you have no mental space for distraction. And a fully charged brain + clarity = a happier you.
That’s exactly who pranayama’s for: people who want to feel better, whether they’re hardcore yogis or someone looking for peace in rush hour. Webb is passionate that anyone and everyone should practice this in their day to day. Whether you’re sitting at a red light, waiting in the grocery store checkout line, meeting with your boss or trying to fall asleep at night, you can use these techniques to really relax your body and clear your mind. Even better—you can make a point to spend a few minutes every day doing these. It’s empowering to make time for yourself, like you do for your co-workers, friends and family.
We’d like to share what we learned with you. Try it—the only thing you have to lose is some stale air:
1/Alternate nostril breathing equally pings both sides of the brain to stabilize your mind and help clear mental noise.
How to do it: Put your right palm in front of your face. Rest your middle finger on your forehead between your eyes. Use your thumb to close your right nostril. Breath in through your left nostril, breath out through your left nostril. Before you take another breath, release your right nostril and use your pinky to close your left nostril. Breathe in through your right nostril and breathe out through your right nostril. Release the left nostril and start from the beginning.
2/ Three-part breathing is great for when you need a restful moment. It gets you in touch with that relaxed belly feeling to help ground you in a stressful day. The technique focuses on filling three areas of your body—the belly, ribcage and chest—with an equal amount of air.
How to do it: First, think about pouring water into a cup. It’s filled from the bottom to the top. Then when you pour it out, the top empties first, then the middle to the bottom. In Three-Part Breathing, when you breathe in you focus on filling your belly first, then your ribcage, then your chest. When you exhale, the chest empties first, then the ribcage, then the belly. Most people naturally breathe in one area, so it’s helpful to rest your hands on the areas you need more focus to feel your hand rising and falling as you fill the different areas.
3/ Sama Vritti, or equal breathing, focuses on matching the inhale to the exhale.
How to do it: As you inhale, count to three, and do the same as you exhale to ensure they’re of equal length. If it’s too easy, extend the counts.
4/ Increasing count of breath helps you slow everything down when you’re feeling especially frenzied.
How to do it: like Sama Vritti, count out your breaths. Each time, the exhale is a count longer than the inhale. Start with inhaling for three counts, then exhale for four. On each breath, increase the counts. So the next inhale would be four counts, and the exhale would be five. Then inhale for five and exhale for six.
5/ Breath of time is the ultimate bedtime exercise, like a more formal version of counting sheep. For this, some of us laid under the conference room table and put our feet up for maximum relaxation.
How to do it: Each full breath (inhale, exhale) is one count. Start at 30, and count backwards to 0.