How to Practice Pranayama

One of the most powerful tools yoga offers to impact your work day is pranayama.

The Yoga Sutras state "The quality of the mind is reflected in the quality of the breath."

We've all experienced the effect that emotion has on our breath.  When we are surprised, we gasp. When we are angry we sometimes huff. When we are sad we sob and when we are anxious our breath becomes shallow.

The breath can follow the mind, or we can control the breath and use it to influence our mind.

There are many pranayama practices, but here are three simple ones that can be powerful in helping you during work hours:

Diaphragmatic 1:1 Breathing

For yogis who practice regularly, simply working to develop a smooth 1:1 pattern can be powerful. Renowned yoga teacher, Indra Devi, recommended that the student take their pulse and count to the same beat.  She encouraged students to start with four counts on the inhale and four counts on the exhale, and to practice this for 15 minutes each day for a month before expanding the count. Rod Stryker has said that learning to breathe smoothly and continually on a four count in and four count out can be life-changing.

When we first start working with pranayama, many of us have to be taught to breathe from the diaphragm. While this is the way babies breathe, as we grow up, many of us become chest breathers.

To train yourself to go back to breathing diaphragmatically, it is easier to begin by lying on the ground. Place one hand on the abdomen and breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. Place the other hand on your chest and breathe in such a way that the hand on your abdomen lifts and the chest doesn't move at all. 

Now practice breathing in for four counts and breathing out for four counts, keeping the breath nice and even. Watching the belly rise and fall. Once you have the hang of breathing in and out through the belly, you can practice diaphragmatic breathing while standing or sitting. 

Keeping the inhale and exhale even is what makes it a 1:1 breath. 

Diaphragmatic 2:1 Breathing

Lengthening the inhale can be expanding, warming, accelerating and energizing.

When you begin to feel a dip in your energy at work, before you try sugar or caffeine, try several rounds of 2:1 breathing. Breathing deep into your belly, inhale for a count of eight and exhale for a count of four. 

Eight on the inhale. 

Four on the exhale. 

To ensure you are breathing with your diaphragm rather than chest breathing, focus the breath deep into the belly and watch your stomach rise and fall.

Use 2:1 breathing any time you need an energetic lift.

Diaphragmatic 1:2 Breathing

Lengthening the exhale can be reducing, quieting, calming and cooling.

When you begin to feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, try several rounds of 1:2 breathing. Breathing deep into your belly, inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of eight. 

Four on the inhale. 

Eight on the exhale. 

To ensure you are breathing with your diaphragm rather than chest breathing, focus the breath deep into the belly and watch your stomach rise and fall.

Use 1:2 breathing any time you need to calm your mind. 

There are other pranayama practices such as viloma breath which is also grounding and calming, kapalabhati which is heating, sitali which is cooling and alternate nostril breathing which is balancing.

You have the power to change your state of being every moment of every day simply by modifying the breath. How will you use your breath to change your experience in your workday? 
© Yogi with a Day JobMaira Gall