It isn’t difficult to think about the last time you felt stressed or worried; not in today’s society. With memories of the war in Iraq, viruses overtaking our hospitals and terrorism in all forms a constant threat, individuals are experiencing anxiety more and more. The heart pounds heavily in the chest, blood pressure rises and fear begins to take over the body. For some this anxiety and fear is such a reality that they do not even wish to leave their homes. In You Can Heal your Life (Hay House Inc., 1999), Louise Hay states that the probable cause of anxiety is “not trusting the flow and process of life.” Trusting the flow is difficult, especially when we become gripped with uncertainty about the future. When we allow anxiety and fear into our minds, we in turn allow these things into our bodies. Most of us do not, however, use the one thing that can heal our emotions—our inner toolbox so to speak, the breath. In order for us to trust the flow of the universe we should explore our breathing as a tool. How many times has someone said, “Just slow down. Take a deep breath…” Whoever said this was not far off the mark. Research shows that the mind follows our breathing patterns. If we remember this internal tool our minds and bodies can relax, remain calm and centred, surrender and let go.

In Ayurveda the breath is broken down fivefold according to movement and function: prana, inhalation or inward vital force, brings energy into the body. Udana, or rising vital force, provides our speech and physical effort. Samana helps to bring balance to the body and manages our digestion. Vyana, or scattered vital force, supervises circulation of nutrients to the body’s tissues. Apana, exhalation or downward moving vital force, helps to eliminate everything the body no longer needs, including negative thoughts and emotions. As you can see in the description of those terms, not allowing the breath into your body causes your physical and psychological components to not work properly; thereby decreasing your flow and natural body rhythms as well as your health. We must allow the breath to flow into our entire being.

Two different pranayama techniques to try are dirgha pranayama and nadi shodhana (or alternate nostril breathing). Dirgha pranayama, or the complete yoga breath, is simple and easy. As you inhale, fill the abdomen up like a big balloon; continue inhaling and filling the chest and finally the collarbone. Exhale, compressing collar, chest and then abdomen. Inhale filling up from the bottom to the top. Exhale collapsing top to bottom. Allow the breath to nourish every cell, vital organ and gland in the body.

Practising nadi shodhana, at first, may feel awkward and uncomfortable. But the healing benefits of balancing the body’s metabolism make the attempts worth each nostril press. Begin using your right hand. Curl your index and middle fingers toward your palm. Place the thumb next to the right nostril and the ring and baby fingers close to the left one. Using the fingers gently close off the left nostril and inhale through the right; taking a long deep breath into the abdomen. Now switch opening the left nostril and close the right nostril off with the thumb; exhale a long slow breath out of your left nostril. Now do the same thing on the opposite side. This completes one round. Continue along in this fashion: inhale through the right nostril. Exhale through the left nostril. Inhale through the left. Exhale through right. Beginners should do five to ten rounds.

Spend a minimum of five minutes each day doing some type of breath work. Whatever technique you try, remember to check your natural rhythms often. Notice if your breath gets “caught” in the body or if it flows in and out with ease. Checking is important. You will thank yourself the next time you are faced with adversity, and you’ll find stressful situations easier to handle.

A few tips should also be noted: if you become tired, dizzy or nauseous doing pranayama lie down and take slow deep breaths. doing too much breath work can intensify or distort emotions. Increased feelings of restlessness, anxiety or irritability are signs that you are doing too much. Normally this applies to advanced practice, doing fifteen to twenty minutes twice daily. However, even beginners can overdo it as well. practice on an empty stomach as the body is a clear channel at this time. This allows the body to focus on the nourishment of the breath and not on trying to digest food simultaneously. Breath work (pranayama) brings improvement to the organs and other systems in the body such as the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and nervous systems. Healing benefits include a balanced metabolism, removed feelings of depression or inadequacy and more. It can result in a greater resistance to disease.

When you consider that the average person takes 23,000 breaths each day, you can see the important of the quality of the breath. According to yogic philosophy, we are meant to live a full 120 years; meaning the total number of breaths in one lifetime should be approximately 946,080,000. When you consider the fact that your respiratory system brings you the breath of life, you can see why you should pay special attention to the fuel this amazing system runs on. Why not start your practice today? Do yourself a favour and explore your inner tools, your flow; just breathe! Then you can sit back watching, relaxed, centred and calm; trusting life is unfolding exactly as it should.

Author's Bio: 

With over 20 years of studying alternative healing methods, Tammy Lawrence-Cymbalisty has a refreshing approach to life. Her gentle spirit has helped many people to live more empowered lives. She is a certified Yoga Teacher, HypnoBirthing Practitioner and workshop facilitator. You can find out more about Tammy on her website