Breath your stress away: unilateral breathing
Updated: May 11, 2020
Breath and Mind are interlinked: you may have noticed that when your breath becomes erratic or restricted it is unlikely that your mind is same time focused and serene - or you may have paid attention to what happens to your breath when you are nervous, worried or anxious - it tends to accelerate, becoming shallow.
During a period of stress we may experience a state of irritability, tension, insecurity and worries about the future: in these circumstances our breath naturally becomes faster. When the breath speeds up a signal is sent to our brain that things are not quite all right, which in turn activates our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) that would overpower the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system that naturally controls the relaxation response.
Anxiety is one of the signs of stress and it can be considered as a "sense of anticipation" that manifests itself, any time we are focused on something that is yet to come. Yoga counts on a well established set of practices that help you to link yourself to the present moment, which is something that is mostly missed when you experience anxiety. By brining awareness on the breath, many yogic techniques create stillness of the contents of the mind: thoughts and memories.
One simple practice I would like to share here, I first learned in one of my trip to Mysore, from R. Sharath Jois and kept on practicing under Eddie Stern that describes it in his book "One Simple Thing" that I used as reference. It is classified as "nadhi shuddi" or "nadhi shodana" which "means nerve purification".
Benefits of this practice:
focusing calming to the mind
balancing Vata Dosha
it reduces anxiety
does not require a regular pranayama practice: it is suitable to everybody, from children to elderly
it can be practiced everywhere and does not require a "specific setting" and can be done in the morning and/or in the evening
suitable for women during pregnancy and while menstruating
sit comfortably on a meditation cushion, in a chair or on your bed if you have a condition that requires you to stay in bed or if you feel very tired
if sitting, find the sitting bone on the ground and be sure your knees are lower than your hips so that you can release the tension accumulated during the day in your hip-flexors and in turn the breath
with a deep inhale lift your shoulders up to your ears; exhale your shoulders down and with the third exhalation, release the tension on your shoulder and place your attention in the space below your navel
elongate the spine, the crown of the head lifted by an invisible thread toward the sky
observe which nostril is the more open (you can close one nostril at times): the dominance shifts naturally from side to side every 2 - 2.5 hours
eyes are either closed or open, gazing softly somewhere in front of you towards the floor
start by placing your right thumb on the indentation of the right side of your nose - between the cartilage and the bone - if the left side is dominant. In case the right nostril is dominant, place your right ring finger on your left nostril
breath slowly and comfortably through the open nostril 3 times, do not force the breath
release your hand down on your lap or knees and take 3 clearing breath through both nostrils, without forcing, letting the breath arising
then change side and breath 3 times slowly and comfortably, do not force the breath
when you are done, rest your hands on your lap or knees and breath few times through both nostrils
when you are ready open your eyes and take a few minutes to observe and appreciate this moment
The number of rounds can be increased over time, the moment you feel comfortable even though increasing the length of the practice is not the purpose: best practicing 5 minutes every day than 20 twice per week.
This practice should be done at least an hour after eating and 30 min after liquids.