I tend to get into my head a lot and forget to breathe, which in turn can lead to anxiety and overwhelm. Over time, if not attended to, this can develop into chronic stress!
One of my go-to self-care tools for managing my stress is taking 5 minutes to relax and breathe. As a yoga teacher, I’ve learned a lot of different breath techniques over the years, but the one I come back to again and again is Equal Parts Breath or Balancing Breath.
How to Practice Balanced Breathing / Sama Vrtti:
Sit in a relaxed yet upright posture, or lie down with supports under the head and knees, if needed.
Tune into the natural rhythm of your breath.
Breathe into your belly – not forcefully, but focus on expanding the belly like a balloon on your inhalations.
Breathe in to a count of 3 or 4 seconds, and breathe out to a count of 3 or 4 seconds.
Gradually lengthen to count to 5 or 6 seconds per inhale and exhale, if it is comfortable.
Come back to your natural rhythm of breath if you need to at any time.
This simple breath exercise has been proven to improve heart rate variability, which is a measure of our resiliency to stress. Give it a try – when you’re sitting in the car, about to have a difficult conversation, when you first wake up or right before bed – your nervous system will thank you!
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If you’ve ever been asked to form an intention during a yoga class or meditation exercise, and found yourself floundering or resisting the request, you’re not alone. Me too, friend. Once I tried Yoga Nidra, however, I was hooked on intention-setting. I learned that the purpose is not to manifest your wishes out of thin air, but to create strength in the structure of the mind. Studies that used such intentions during meditation have shown that cognitive restructuring processes are stimulated.
While it’s better to try and find your intention (or sankalpa) in the relaxed state, some of us can get very distracted trying to find the right one during practice. To assist my Yoga Nidra practice, I sat down and did some journaling to get me started. Here’s what I came up with:
Step by Step: Finding the Seeds of Intention
Close your eyes and think of your current daily life.
Create a list of “wants” and “needs” — stay away from the trivial, go for the deep.
Take a break from your list and come back to it a day later.
When you come back to that list of wants and needs, what stands out as the most challenging, or maybe even a little scary? (Mine are highlighted in pink.)
Create an intention that is short, positive and present tense surrounding that.
While you can set intentions at any time, they are more effective when they’re planted into a very relaxed mind. That’s where Yoga Nidra comes in. Yoga Nidra contains a systematic sequence of body awareness and breathing that can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and increase the amount of alpha-waves in the brain – a perfect time to plant those seeds! That little bit of pre-journaling work you did while in a more conscious state might help you refine your intention once you enter alpha states.
A Few More Examples “in the Moment”
If you experience stress and frustration: “I am calm and patient”
If you are scattered: “I am present”
If you experience illness or disease: “I am healthy and whole”
If you’re feeling vulnerable: “I am safe”
If you feel isolated: “I am connected”
If you experience turbulent emotions: “I am content”
If you have trouble sleeping: “I sleep soundly and wake refreshed”
You can use the same sankalpa for a while, and then because we are ever-changing, over time your sankalpa may change too. If you’re stuck in a rut, maybe Yoga Nidracould help. I’m not promising personal transformation, but it’s just possible that like me, you have never really explored your subconscious and practiced opening up your mind-space, allowing it to wander. Plant your intention into this open, liberated mind-space, and trust that the suggestion will take root and grow.
Join me for a live Zoom session once a month, on second Sunday of each month at 4pm Eastern Standard Time. FREE for health care workers and those affected by Waldenstrom’s.
Mentor Marc Nelles, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, YACEP, founder of Mankind Yoga
Personal Practice while guided by Yogi Charu, Karen Nourizadeh, Julia Abramova, Marc Nelles
Through the practice of yoga nidra, we are not only relaxing, but restructuring and reforming our whole personality from within. Like the mythological phoenix, with every session we are burning the old samskaras, habits and tendencies in order to be born anew.