It was March of 2010, and my husband and I had just purchased our dreamy second home—a cozy ranch on five acres in the quiet woods.
I was moving a piece of furniture downstairs on the very first day in our new home, when I slipped on the steps and thunked the back of my head all the way down. I crumpled into a ball at the bottom of the stairs and sank into tears. There was blood all over my head and hands. Josh came rushing down in a panic, lifted me up, and rushed me to the emergency room.
I remember sitting in the car when I started to feel woozy in my stomach. My head was pulsing and dizzy, my vision was going black. I knew I was going to pass out. My husband Josh begged me to stay with him, and the only thing I could do was breathe.
I slipped into that familiar Ujjai breath—the long slow aspirant breath technique. Focusing on the inhale, I then held my breath for a bit, and then took a long slow exhale. I just repeated that over and over until we arrived at the emergency room.
I did not pass out. But I did have a bad concussion.
I spent the next 6 weeks in bed. Not only was I unable to unpack, I needed help getting my girls to and from school and with all the basic household chores. It took me about six more months to fully recover. Thankfully I had the loving support of Josh and my family. I continued to use those breathing techniques to get me through that long healing process. That experience has been a lesson to me for how focused breathing can help in times of stress and pain.
Techniques of Ujjayi
Breathing is a process of taking air into the lungs and sending it back out into the world. The ancient yogis of India understood that breathing techniques were essential to one’s physical and spiritual health and wellbeing.
All breathing techniques are called Pranayama–control of your vital energy. Ujjayi breath is a simple technique that engages a slight constriction of the glottis muscle at the back of the throat while breathing. It is sometimes called Ocean Wave Breath as it creates a sound reminiscent of the Ocean. The way I like to teach it is to tell my students to open the mouth and breathe out like you want to fog up a mirror or clean your glasses. That action creates the constriction of the glottis muscle in the throat. Keep that action, then close your mouth and breath in and out through your nose. You should hear a slight aspirant sound in your breath. Ujjayi breath lengthens your inhalation and your exhalation, and the sound helps you to focus your mind on the breath.
Ujjayi breath is the base of many other breathing techniques. Another of my favorite techniques is 4-8 breath, sometimes also called 4-7-8 breath. You use the same Ujjayi breath technique, but this time you breathe in for the count of 4, hold the breath for the count of 7, then exhale for the count of 8. You can repeat this pattern for at least three cycles.
Benefits of 4-7-8 breath
Regular practice of slow deep breathing has a host of benefits. WebMD lists the following benefits:
- Reduced anxiety
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved sleep
- Less pain
- Improved concentration
Use Ujjayi and 4-7-8 breath anytime you feel stressed—for example, before reacting to an upsetting situation, and when you need a little help falling asleep. Repeated daily practice amplifies the benefits and makes you more likely to remember to use these techniques when you need them most.
I personally practice pranayama every single day, even if I do not practice asana. As a yoga teacher, I also include at least one pranayama practice in all of my yoga classes. The breath is your perfect tool for daily stress relief and total mind-body wellness.
Here are a few quotes to inspire your breathing…
“Breathe deeply, until sweet air extinguishes the burn of fear in your lungs and every breath is a beautiful refusal to become anything less than infinite.” – D. Antoinette Foy
“Learn how to exhale, the inhale will take care of itself.” – Carla Melucci Ardito
“What can we do but keep on breathing in and out, modest and willing, and in our places?” – Mary Oliver
“Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
“Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.” – L. Frank Baum
Also by Angie: These 14 Books And 5 Quotes Are Giving Me Life During Cold Days
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Photo: Artem Kovalev on Unsplash