4 comments on “How to Get Over a Bad Mood by Cultivating Breath Awareness”

How to Get Over a Bad Mood by Cultivating Breath Awareness

Yoga is the dance of every cell with the music of every breath that creates inner serenity and harmony.”  – Debashish Mirdha, MD., neurosurgeon & philosopher 

So you’re in a mood. 

What do you do? 

What are your go-to ways to get over it? 

Whatever way you choose to work through your moods, here’s one thing to know: 

Moodiness isn’t “good” or “bad.” 

It’s neutral. 

It provides us with clues about what’s going on underneath the surface of our awareness. 

They’re like the tip of the iceberg of our inner world – the world of our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, perceptions, fears, etc.

A particularly bad mood can be like a tape caught on loop and overdrive. 

Except the tape is our mind and we tend to loop hard when we’re bothered/ pissed/ annoyed/ disappointed/ overwhelmed/ irritated… you get the idea. 

So what do we do? 

We start breathing. 

We tune into the breath and use it to help us navigate the waters of mind and emotions.

Yogic sages have known for thousands of years that the breath is the portal through which we can transform stress and anxiety while accessing a state of inner calm and grounded balance.

Our breathing patterns are intimately tied to our emotions.

Influence one, and you also impact the other. 

 They form what’s called the Breath-Emotion Loop:

1- Our emotions, thoughts, and moods influence our breathing patterns. 

Next time you’re in a mood pay attention to your breathing pattern. You’ll probably notice it’s short, shallow, erratic and/or quick. 

Then notice your breathing next time you feel calm, safe, deep in concentration, or at ease. Notice it’ll probably be slower, longer, even-paced, and/or deeper. 

2- Our breathing patterns can influence our mood. 

If you were to start breathing rapidly taking short and shallow breaths you’ll likely start feeling either awake and alert, or anxious and on guard. 

And so, if you begin breathing slowly and deeply you will most probably begin to feel less uneasy and more relaxed.

Paying attention to our breathing patterns can tell us a lot about our mood. 

Often times we’re not even aware we’re in a mood until something or someone on the outside reflects it back to us and it’s only then that we realize. 

We can become more still and present by consciously controlling our inhales and exhales, and that’s how awareness is born. 

And this is also yoga. 

You don’t need to use your body or a mat to practice yoga.

You can use only your breath and this is yogic practice (sadhana) too. 

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 500-year-old authoritative yogic text states that: 

When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life.” 

Cultivating the habit of daily breath awareness is so effective at stilling the ripples of the mind that even Buddha himself taught this practice to monks.

In particular, the Buddhist Anapanasati Sutta, also known as the “Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing,” details Buddha’s instructions on how to use the breath to cultivate calm focus and mindfulness (aka Anapana breathing):

“Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. 

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. 

Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. 

Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body. 

Breathing in, I calm my whole body. 

Breathing out, I calm my whole body” 

Mindfully paying attention to our breath means noticing and observing it without judging it and without having the need to change it in any way. 

Just noticing the inhales and exhales.

Becoming so awake, aware, and present that we can actually start to feel the inner waves our breath creates.

Bringing full awareness to the sensation and feeling of the breath coming into the nostrils and coming out of the nostrils. 

If a thought comes, (which it will, especially if you’re in a mood!) simply bring your attention back to the breath. 

Each time the mind wanders, just bring it back to the present moment – the moment where you’re breathing just as you are. Right here, right now. 

By cultivating this simple daily habit, we can start to shift the way we feel right now, so we can eventually also shift the way we perceive our reality and our experiences. 

This inevitably creates empowering changes in our mood and temperament. 

This is how we use our breath and our awareness to get over emotional humps and hurdles more quickly, more efficiently, and more productively. 

Want to give it a try? 

Join in on this guided meditation:

Remember:

“When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still.”

You can calm your breath by just starting to pay attention to it. 

This simple practice can have powerful exponential effects if it becomes a daily habit. 

May you find peace and refuge in your breath. 

Sat nam. 

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Osmara Aryal, MBA, the founder of CalmWithYoga.com, a site dedicated to using yogic philosophy, mindfulness, and meditation to increase inner calm, mental focus, vital energy, and quality rest. She’s a Certified Functional Nutrition Practitioner and a Certified Yoga Teacher, specializing in Yoga Nidra, Yin Yoga, and Meditation. Her work has been featured multiple times on CNN and the Miami Herald.  When she’s not exploring corners of the world with her husband, or when her eyes aren’t glued to the computer researching, you’ll find her concocting gut-healing dishes in her kitchen, or cuddling with fur-babies Yodha and Molly. 


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12 comments on “Breathing Techniques: Why are they essential to yoga?”

Breathing Techniques: Why are they essential to yoga?

Pranayama

By Suzana Altero

Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.” ~Krishnamacharya

Pranayama (breathing techniques) are a key practice of Hatha Yoga, the mother of all physical or postural yoga. They are such a core tool in this tradition that the term Hatha itself is closely connected to it. Wanna understand how?

What does Pranayama mean?

The word pranayama can be technically translated as breath control (prana=breath, yama=control). However, in the hatha yoga texts it’s also linked to a wider interpretation. Prana stands for the life force underlying all life-activities and the word ayama means the whole field. Therefore, the pranayama techniques are practiced to introduce us into the whole field of the life-force itself that is present in all life-activities. Once we get to know it we are soon able to cleanse, harmonize, and ultimately control it.

But why is it a key practice in Hatha Yoga?

The life-force (prana) travels around the layers of our body through specific channels which are called nadis. There are 3 main nadis: pingala nadi, ida nadi and susumna nadi.

Pingala Nadi, The Sun and the Ha of Hatha

  • All the life-activities that need energy to be broken down and give heat are linked to the Pingala nadi. This channel starts from the right side of the base of spine and ends up in the right nostril. It has the Sun as a symbol and is linked to the Ha, in hatha

Ida Nadi, The Moon and the Tha of Hatha

  • All the life-activities that need energy to be conserved and by consequence cultivate coolness are linked to the Ida nadi. This channel starts from the left side of the base of spine and ends up in the left nostril. It has the Moon as a symbol and is linked to the term Tha, in hatha.

Both channels travel upwards in a spiral way, that means they go from right to left to right and so on. The word Hatha stands for these two opposing channels (nadis), the Sun and the Moon, and in a broader perspective, to the process of bringing harmony between the opposites in order to reach ultimate balance. After all, it’s only when these channels are balanced that the path towards this ultimate balance is opened. In other words, when pingala nadi and ida nadi are balanced our main channel opens up: Susumna nadi.

  • Susumna nadi is the channel that rests in the middle of the spine. Kundalini awakening (or the awakening of our primal life-force) stands for the opening of this main channel. This whole process brings about a full transformation that leads to realization (samadhi), the ultimate goal of Yoga. We can understand realization as the experience of recognition of oneself as being one with the universe. That is attained when Kundalini have travelled up through Susumna nadi and have reached the highest center in the brain.

Pranayama, therefore, is a major practice that balances our energetic channels (nadis) and assists our Kundalini into the final path towards enlightenment.

Pranayama break-down:
puraka, kumbhaka e recaka

The word puraka stands for inhalation and recaka stands for exhalation. Kumbhaka refers to the part of the pranayama technique that the practitioner retains the breath either before an inhalation or after. As pranayama techniques are key to hatha yoga so is the retention to the pranayama technique. It is because of this retention that the term kumbhaka is also used to address each style/technique of pranayama in Hatha Yoga (Ujjayi kumbhaka, bhastrika kumbhaka, Bhramari kumbhaka etc.).

Why is the retention so important?

It is very difficult to control our minds and our emotions. However, it is quite more simple (though it is not easy) to manipulate our breath. The breath and the mind have an intimate relationship: tamper with one and you’ll affect the other one right away. This can be easily seen once someone is having a panic attack: their breathing patterns become fast, shallow and they often need assistance to come to a more relaxed state.

So why is controlling the breath so important in the first place? Here is Hatha Pradipika’s answer:

So long as breathing goes on the mind remains unsteady; when (it) stops, (the mind) becomes still and the Yogi attains complete motionlessness. Hence, one should restrain one’s breath.” Hatha Pradipika (II, verses 1 and 2)

Kumbhaka is praised and considered an essential part of pranayama in the majority of the hatha yoga scriptures. This part of the breathing techniques is considered to be closely related to the awakening of our Kundalini, the beginning of the last journey of hatha. A more tangible result of the retention of breath is simply a stronger cultivation of silence in our minds.

An even more fundamental question is why do we want our minds to become steady and silent ? In other words, why do we want the inner babbling to stop or be let go?

All yoga techniques are about bringing silence not only to our gross level (body) but also to the subtlest layers of ourselves (emotion, mind and intellect as well). Cleansing our pranic channels is also a part of reaching this silence: if everything flows nicely, our psycho-physical structure will demand less of our attention (and will complain less!).

Only through silence can we start exploring and experiencing who we really are beyond what we’ve been conditioned and learned to be.

Pranayama and its modern adaptations

These days our pranayama practices mostly derive from Hatha Yoga literature. Though they are derived from these scriptures they do not necessarily include the breath retention in their techniques. A good example is the adaptation that happened to the “Ujjayi” practice: one segment of the ujjayi kumbhaka (the contraction of the glottis while inhaling and/or exhaling) has been broadly used in yoga classes since the gurus of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (a modern yoga style of practice) have combined it with its flowing body movements.

It is very important to note, though, that the practice of pranayama without retention does not mean that it has no benefits. Breath awareness and the first stage of pranayama itself brings a multitude of benefits to our mood, mind-state and overall health. In fact, beginners are strongly advised to practice with no retention of breath for at least 3 months and under an experienced teacher’s guidance.

Is pranayama without retention useful?

There are several pranayama techniques and they all bring many benefits even without retention. For general health and well-being pranayama without retention is actually more than enough; retentions are usually for those that have chosen hatha yoga as their spiritual path since they are connected to the awakening of our primal energy (kundalini) as previously mentioned.

But, what can be gained from pranayama without retention?

We can summarize quite an amazing list of benefits:

  1. Normal breathing gives a gentle massage to the kidneys and bowels. During pranayama this massage is more intense and helps the practitioner to relieve any constipation and eliminate toxins. Moreover, the nerves and muscles that control those organs functions get a tone-up too!
  2. It is a myth that we absorb more oxygen during pranayama… However, the whole breathing apparatus (the lungs) is well trained by being expanded and stretched to its fullest potential. That induces the practitioner to actually breath better for the rest of the day and have more oxygen as consequence!
  3. Stomach, pancreas and liver are also massaged which helps in the digestion and the absorption of food. As a consequence our blood has more oxygen and more nutrients, which means that it has more quality and can support the different systems and organs to work more effectively!
  4. During pranayama, the diaphragm also massages the heart nicely. Moreover, bhastrika (a pranayama technique) improves the circulation by the vibrations that it creates and are spread to all tissues, including veins, arteries and capillaries.
  5. The nerves receive better blood supply, which provides a big boost to the nervous system. But it’s not just that! As one study claims, “The focus on slow deep breathing has been shown to improve autonomic nervous system functioning through enhanced activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

The majority of the pranayama techniques work through slowing down the breath. Though researchers are still focusing on fully understanding how it works it’s known that when we slow down our breaths we decrease the effect of stress and strain on the body, which improves physical and mental health.

Modern Yoga practice (and not only pranayama) has been found to be a great tool to manage our mood and help us just feel good. It’s not surprising that yoga keeps being discovered by the west as complementary therapy to stress, depression, and cancer, among other dis-eases.

Are you ready to feel the power of pranayama? I hope you feel inspired by all these amazing facts and give some time to pranayama in your self-practice!

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imageEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Suzana Altero. Suzana lives in India and is married to an indo-german who is also a yoga geek! She is a passionate yoga teacher and co-founder of Turiya Yoga where a wonderful team offers Yoga Teacher Training in IndiaShe is a world traveller and a complete yoga, psychology, mythology and… theology geek! Fully into nature, being with friends and devouring books, her perfect day is an ecleft if mixture of all those things while also having time for listening to an inspiring satsang (spiritual talk)! You can follow her work on Facebook or Twitter.

6 comments on “Mindful Breathing: Round n’ Round We Go…”

Mindful Breathing: Round n’ Round We Go…

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Nicole Newman who blogs at Yoga for the Arts.]

“The complex has its root in the simple.” ~Lao-Tzu

Anxiety. Shallow (or rapid) breathing. Muscle tension. Guarded posture. Fear. Fight-or-Flight response activated. Increased restriction of respiration. Oxygen deprivation. Exhaustion. Dysphoria. Augmented anxiety. Psychosomatic illnesses.

The most effective and accessible antidote to anxiety is to establish a grounded, centered breath with sound, referred to as ujjayi, “one who is victorious,” or ujjayi breath, “victorious breath.” Ujjayi is produced by gently narrowing the base of the throat by partially closing the epiglottis (the piece of cartilage at the top of the voicebox) and breathing exclusively through the nose. In spite of its simplicity, ujjayi requires both relaxation of effort and presence of mind, which naturally deepens the breath and calms and strengthens the nervous system.

Practice finding the ujjayi sweet spot by exhaling through the mouth, as if to fog a window. Feel the breath create friction at the base of the throat as the soft palette rises, doming upward. Use this same technique to recreate the oceanic-like sound, but this time close the mouth and inhale and exhale through the nose.

Changing the breath directly influences biochemical reactions, producing more relaxing substances, such as endorphins, while dramatically reducing the production and release of anxiety-producing hormones and neurotransmitters, including adrenaline and cortisol.

An incessant undercurrent of fear and anxiety cause physical and emotional blockages, creating a constrictive armor of tension, which hinders freedom of movement, thought and creativity. A well of untapped potential energy resides at the base of the spine, the root of our nervous system. Through mindfully cultivating an even-tempered, sibilant ujjayi, one can awaken and regulate this seat of inner strength.

When paralyzed by anxious thoughts, I find refuge in and inspiration from the Hindu deity and warrior, Durga, “the invincible,” or in Bengali referred to as “the one who can redeem in situations of utmost distress.” Her unshakable fearlessness prevails, even when embroiled in epic spiritual battles. She embodies fortitude and remains rooted and centered in the eye of the storm. Her many arms wield symbolic weapons, including a sword, representing the power derived from discriminative knowledge.

Learning how to use the breath to reign in the wandering mind brings equanimity and strength of mind and body. Senior Ashtanga teacher, David Swenson is often quoted for sharing the following yogic saying: “The mind is more difficult to control than the wind; But, if we are able to control our breath we may control our mind.”

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Nicole Newman is an Ashtanga practitioner and enthusiast. She studies with her favorite teacher and mentor, Eddie Stern at the Sri Ganesha Temple.

Nicole is a conservatory-trained flutist, who developed scoliosis after practicing several hours a day over many years, without any instruction in mind-body-instrument awareness. Through yoga, Nicole was able to realign her spine and strengthen the muscles supporting her back. She now moves without pain or discomfort. Nicole dedicated herself to sharing the transformative science and art of yoga by founding Yoga for the Arts. Nicole’s mission is to help artists live happier, healthier, more artistically productive lives.

2 comments on “7 Reasons You Need to Breathe Right Now”

7 Reasons You Need to Breathe Right Now

Where is the conflict when the Truth is known,
Where is the disease when the mind is clear,
Where is the death when the breath is controlled,
Therefore, surrender to Yoga.
–Poem by  T. Krishnamacharya

As aspiring yogis we recognize the significant mental and physical benefits of breath awareness.

Isn’t it incredible how a little focused attention on an involuntary physical process like breathing can have such an immediate, dramatic, transformative effect on our lives?

So simple an action, yet so easy to overlook when we step off our yoga mats.

With its mind-altering benefits, the breath truly resides at the heart of yoga.  Indeed, there’s no better way to bring that amazing yogic feeling into every second of our lives than to reorient our awareness on the simple movement of our breath.

It’s easy to breathe when standing on the yoga mat, but there are so many other times in our lives when a few deep breaths can make all the difference.  Here are seven:

  1. If you feel stressed out and overwhelmed, breathe. It will calm you and release the tensions.
  2. If you are worried about something coming up, or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. It will bring you back to the present.
  3. If you are discouraged and have forgotten your purpose in life, breathe. It will remind you about how precious life is, and that each breath in this life is a gift you need to appreciate. Make the most of this gift.
  4. If you have too many tasks to do, or are scattered during your workday, breathe. It will help bring you into focus, to concentrate on the most important task you need to be focusing on right now.
  5. If you are spending time with someone you love, breathe. It will allow you to be present with that person, rather than thinking about work or other things you need to do.
  6. If you are exercising, breathe. It will help you enjoy the exercise, and therefore stick with it for longer.
  7. If you are moving too fast, breathe. It will remind you to slow down, and enjoy life more.

So breathe. DO IT NOW!  And enjoy each moment of this life. They’re too fleeting and few to waste.