Just Breathe: A Daily Practice
by Esperanza Tervalon-Daumont, Maa Aishwarya
Just breathe. We say it all the time. To co-workers, to partners, to children; it is the age-old wisdom that the ages don’t seem to forget. Breathe.
Intrinsically we know that bringing mindfulness to this involuntary action changes, well, everything. While scientific evidence of the power of yoga is growing, this simple and ancient practice is available to everyone right now. Thanks to the simplicity of pranayama, we can take this practice anywhere we go. In fact, when I start feeling pressured, stressed, or just disconnected I am able to immediately bring in my yoga practice through pranayama.
Thanks to the teachings of the Maharishi Patanjali, yogis have been using the power of pranayama, or controlled breathing techniques, since the dawn of time. The fourth of eight limbs of Raj Yoga, pranayama is one path to Union with Supreme Consciousness. Prana is the life-force within each of us which, when regulated with consistent and dedicated practice, create a foundation for spiritual liberation. More fully outlined in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:49-2:53, we learn what makes pranayama as powerful a practice as asana for modern-day, urban yogis of the West, like me. While images of you practicing pranayama aren’t as likely to get thousands of likes on Instagram, it is a practice that is changing my life and it can change yours too.
With consistency and dedication anyone can begin a daily pranayama practice that is easy enough for the newest yogi but reaps magnanimous benefits. I find that Sama Vritti, which translates as equal breaths, is the perfect starting place for my pranayama practice each morning. Bringing awareness to my breath shifts my mind to the present moment and the spiritual work of Yoga.
In keeping with Patanjali’s Sutra you need to begin in a comfortable and sturdy seat. Use a cushion or blanket to raise your hips if this makes sitting more comfortable. Sitting in sukasan (simple cross-legged) or padmasan (lotus) is advisable but remember, yoga is about being steady and at ease in postures. Set yourself up for success by taking the modifications you need to practice pranayama with ease.
With both hands in gyan mudra resting softly on your knees gently close the eyes and relax. Begin to cultivate Ujjayi breath by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, with the sound and quality of fogging up a mirror. Transition to breathe exclusively through your nose while cultivating the ocean-wave sound of Ujjayi pranayama. Your breathing should be audible as you constrict the air flow through the back of your throat filling first the upper part of your lungs and completing your inhale by expanding the belly. Begin your exhale by contracting the belly to push the air up and out.
Begin inhaling for 8-12 counts and exhaling for 8-12counts depending on your capacity. As you follow your breath in and out pay attention to the quality and sensation of breathe. Is it steady? Are you thinking about your to-do list? Let this time with your breath be a time of internal observation, but not judgment. There is no right or wrong. No good or bad. But there is a cultivation of attention to your life-force. There is a dance happening in the space between the inhale and exhale which can be infinitely explored if we stay curious. If your mind strays, it is ok. Simply begin again (and again, and again). Generally speaking, 12 cycles of any pranayama equals 1 round of pranayama. 3-5 rounds of any type of pranayama is a beautiful way to start your day or prepare for meditation.
Listen, I’m not your typical yogini. Serving as the executive for a social justice organization and being mother to an active (and amazing!) 7 year old boy, I need to show up and produce every day. Cultivating a strong and consistent pranayama practice gives me the perspective and awareness I need to be more centered and connected to my spiritual path as I go about my daily life. Pranayama means that Yoga is always available. It is literally at the tip of your nose.
About Esperanza “Maa Aishwarya” Tervalon-Daumont:
Is the vegan, yogini, mother of a beautiful 7 year-old yogi-boy who loves kirtan with her harmonium, suriyanamaskar, and practicing yoga in nature. A RYT-200 with Yoga Alliance, Esperanza was trained and certified to teach yoga and yoga therapy in 2013 under the grace and guidance of Dr. Omamand (Guruji) at the Paramanand Institute or Yoga and Science in Indore, M.P. You can keep up with Esperanza by following her on Instagram @etd510.