4. Breathing Helps (And Gerry Lopez is Here to Help You Breathe Better)
“Just take a deep breath,” is a common piece of advice offered up in times of high stress. A cliché, in fact. But it does work, even if we seldom pause and actually give our breath the attention necessary to maximize its grounding, anxiety-reducing effects — you know, the good stuff that we could all use right now. Luckily, ever-calming-Yogi-and-living-Pipe-God Gerry Lopez is here to help. He calls the following lesson “The Breath of Life”, and you’re gonna want to get comfy for this. Lay a mat or a blanket on the floor, prop your phone or computer up in a chair or on a low table and we’ll let Gerry take it from here:
“First off, come into a comfortable seated position like lotus or half lotus or easy pose. If sitting on your knees with a block or any variation of vajrasan works, go there. If none of these are comfortable, lay on your back. Let your spine become straight and gently lengthen it, imagining the spaces between each vertebra opening. Begin to turn your external awareness inward, turning the gaze of your entire sensory apparatus so it looks inside. Keep your mind and all your senses inside; try not to let them wander outside of your body.
“Let your body relax and begin bringing your full attention to your breathing. Allow your awareness to embrace your exhale, knowing you are breathing out. When you breathe in, know you are doing this. As you focus on your breath, your concentration will deepen, making it easier for thoughts to subside.
“Empty the lungs completely on each exhale, lifting your diaphragm to squeeze all the air out, doing this without rushing, gently pushing any air out until none remains. You will find a stillness there as you create a vacuum in your lungs so as you begin your inhale, the air will naturally flow in. Help it in an easy, gentle, unforced manner, filling the lungs completely, letting the diaphragm push downward and your abdomen to expand. Allow the bottom of your lungs to fill first. Then as you pull in more air, feel your intercostal muscles engage, letting your ribs push out, your chest expanding, adding more air in the thoracic area. Finally, gently raise your shoulders and collarbones as you continue to breathe in to the very top of your lungs, filling them completely. When no more air will go in, then relax into the moment of breath retention, finding a deep stillness that your entire body will feel. Be aware of the position of your spine, keep it erect if sitting, straight if lying down, allowing the stillness to relax your muscles and release any tension. Our Pranayama practice involves these three aspects: we call the exhalation, Rechaka, the inhalation, Puraka and the gap between when the breath is still is Kumbhaka. When practiced mindfully, this intentional breathing has physical, mental and emotional benefits. Physically, we oxygenate our blood and strengthen our digestive, elimination, respiratory and circulatory systems. Energetically, a Pranayama practice helps balance, concentrate and harmonize the flow of Prana within us. Our mind stays clear and alert. The key ingredient here is attention. By paying close attention to our breath, we increase focus and concentration. This has the effect of raising our meditative awareness and bringing us into the present moment.