I am currently gulping down “Breath. The New Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor which has been such a brilliant reminder for me about the importance of our breath; our life force, our energy.
As shared before, I am one who teeters on the edge of overwhelm more often than I would like. Typically I can reframe and rebalance, grounding myself in what is, rather than what my mind is telling me what might be. Sometimes, however, I slip and plunge deep into dark suffocating waters where self-doubt, rumination, and regret awake from dormancy.
Lately I have been struggling more than usual due to a particularly busy chapter of my life. We are in the process of selling a home, buying a home, selling a business and buying a business and it has brought up all the feels, while leaving me drained, exhausted, confused and yep you guessed it, overwhelmed.
My husband’s and my goal is a golden one; to redesign our lives so that we can spend more time as a family, with less stress, more presence, more togetherness, and more fulfilment. Although the tunnel feels very long, the light at the end shines oh so brightly that it continues to beckon in spite of the journey that must come first.
The more I lose myself in moments of overwhelm, the more I can find myself after, with my triggers and subsequent coping strategies being open for assessment and consideration. Regular retrospective assessment has allowed me to notice that my breath is one of the first things that goes when I am thrust into the physiological fight or flight response that is inherent with overwhelm. And indeed, it is my breath that is the most steadfast anchor that can return me to a state of inner wellbeing and calm.
“Breath” is giving me a whole new lens with which to consider our cycles of inhalation and exhalation. While I yet to complete the book, my biggest takeaway so far has been the concept of less is more. That the slow, gentle, deliberate inhalation and exhalation of a breath, even during exercise, is more worthy than the frantic, greedy, thoughtless gulps that for many dictates the cycle.
For a few years now I have been incorporating yoga into my self-care regime and while it took me some time to feel and understand the benefits, I now cannot imagine my life without it. Part of the practice which I love the most, as with meditation, is the deliberate concentration on the breath; following its passage through the nostrils, the back of the throat, the chest, and through the body to whichever part needs softening. We hold onto so much in our bodies, and our breath is often the river by which we can reach remote parts that we have forgotten about, and which require our attention for release.
One of my favourite exercises in yoga is Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, or alternate nostril breathing. I love it because when practicing it, you are still, present, and focussed on nothing but the breath. With three young children and a large, bouncy dog, I can assure you that taking a few moments to concentrate on nothing but the breath feels like a luxury indeed!
I have also taught this method of focussed breathing to help my children relax when they are anxious, or to calm them when their minds are particularly busy.
The potential and purpose of this ancient technique is reflected in the translation from Sanskrit.
Nadi meanschannel and Shodhana is cleaning, or purification so Nadi Shodhana refers to the cleansing of energy channels in the body.
Prana means life energy, and Yama means control so Pranayama refers to the practice of regulating the breath.
To practice Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
- Find a comfortable seat, with your back upright.
- Rest your left hand in your lap.
- Resting your index and middle fingers on your forehead, and position your left thumb by the right nostril, and your left ring finger by your left nostril, relax the pinky.
- Take one gentle breath in and out
- Block the right nostril with the right thumb and inhale through the left nostril
- Release the right nostril for an exhale, while closing the left nostril with the ring finger
- Breath in through the right nostril, then close the right nostril to breathe out through the left.
This completes one cycle. Repeat up to 10-12 times.
The benefits of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama are profound. To learn more about these benefits, and to see a simple demo video, click here.
If this breath exercise doesn’t appeal to you, just noticing your breath and becoming aware of it’s patterns and tendencies can be a powerful step towards bridging the connection between mind and body. From a place of mind/body connection, calm can be found and this, I have found, is the perfect antidote to overwhelm.