Yesterday’s weekly yoga class was different than usual, in that many are on vacation in mid August, and so the class had fewer attendees. Instead of this being a source of upset or dismay, the instructor, Mariko, took the opportunity to utilize the intimate environment to do something that works better with a smaller class.
She began by explaining what pranayama means – prana is energy or life force, and yama is control. The word is not new to me, I’ve known it for decades as a particular type of breath work I used with Transcendental Meditation. The concept is significantly larger than I understood it to be.
The beginning of class we spent time, eyes closed, just breathing. We practiced ujjayi breath, sometimes called “ocean breath” because the exhale is long and loud and sounds (somewhat) like the ocean. It is done through the nostrils only, but if you had an open mouth, it is the kind of breathing that would fog up a mirror. Our exhales lasted a count or two beyond our inhales. If you try this for a few minutes, you will notice a change in your state of mind. Mariko asked us how we felt – tired, nauseous, calm. I felt very calm, and serene, and clear. Breath work is used in martial arts to energize and invigorate a move, and breath work in yoga can be used to assist in holding a pose longer than you thought you could, or to slow your body down after the session ended and rest.
It can be used outside of the yoga studio when a traffic jam, or a child, or your boss is causing you stress. Just sit quietly (or go to the nearest bathroom stall) and begin putting your energies on your breathing. For reasons not entirely clear to me (distraction?) this usually works.
I will admit, under huge duress, I have tried this and it didn’t work. Or to be fair, it may have worked but my stress levels were ratcheted so high, I didn’t get the effect I was looking for.
As we sat quietly, learning and re-learning this type of breathing, I thought this would be a wonderful gift for everyone – because in the end, it is a natural coping technique for handling the stress and anxiety of life in the modern world, Who, in their right mind, wouldn’t want that?