It all started several years ago during a rough period in my life. In June of 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I immediately went into treatment and eventually I had surgery. I was beginning to heal from that surgery when I got the news that my mother was sick. Only a few weeks later she passed away.
I was left in the aftermath: physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. As the days went on, I found it hard to take a deep breath and even harder to sleep. I went to my doctor, who recommended that I try yoga. I took her advice to heart and found a class. There wasn't a lot that I could do in the beginning, but I just kept at it.
I learned that yoga is a practice of self-inquiry. As I moved deeper into my practice, the weight that I was holding slowly began to lift, and I felt stronger. I started to feel more alive, and I felt my breath. I learned that my shallow breathing was restricting the vital energy in my body. Yoga calls that energy Prana. I learned that the quality of our breath relates to the quality of our mind. The pace and depth of our breath reflects our mental, emotional, and physiological state.
As I began to practice the slow and deep breathing of pranayama, I created an environment in my body and mind for a deeper calm and a profound sense of letting go, creating a relaxation response I hadn’t felt in years.
I’ve witnessed the power of pranayama firsthand, for both my students and myself. Pranayama helps us to reconnect with our body and shifts our awareness away from the chatter in our mind.
On a physical level, focused breathing creates a sense of calm. By calming the body and mind, it decreases heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and reduces anxiety, all while improving focus and attention. When we change our breath, we can change our mind and our body. However, sustained change takes time.
First, we have to start and then commit to a regular practice. A great place to start is with a simple breathing practice. My pranayama practice began with what yoga calls "three-part breathing" or "complete breath."
I would like to share a video with you (see above) that walks you through the pranayama practice of three-part breathing or complete breath. This is a great way to acquaint yourself with this simple, yet powerful, practice that you can do anytime and anywhere. Feel free to watch this video as often as you like for guidance. This practice is where the real work of regulating my central nervous system began for me.
You can practice three-part breathing any time you need to steady your mind, balance and calm your body, or increase your prana or flow of energy.
I use lavender essential oil to help facilitate the relaxation response during this practice. The aromatic compounds in essential oils have fantastic benefits. Lavender is specifically known for its calming and relaxing qualities. During my practice, I place a roll-on dilution on my wrists and then inhale deeply or place the oil in a diffuser.
What I know for sure is that each time I show up for my practice, yoga gives me the opportunity to connect with my deeper self and I leave feeling better than when I came. I hope that your practice does the same for you. Consider starting today to change your breath and change your life!