We're honored to feature cambio. Yoga owner, Amber Richman, offering tangible advice on how to calm the mind using pranayama. Click the below to watch the video or read the transcript and let us know what you think! Do you have something you'd like to contribute to the blog? If so, email Austin at
Two Tips to Calming Your Mind with Pranayama (Vlog Transcript)
Hey everyone! Amber and Sasha (adorable dog in background) here. I just wanted to make a little video about pranayama, since that is our theme for the month of April. Pranayama is a technique which brings prana, or life-force, into the body. It's through the breath that we expand this life force and control it. It’s known in yoga that where the breath goes, the mind goes. So, the more calm we can become in our breathing, the more calm we can become in our thoughts.
The problem that often happens--and I've been here in the past also, which is why I wanted to share this video with you today-- is that pranayama can actually leave us feeling really agitated, even pissed off. For me, it used to bring about real anxiety. There are two things that can really help us to avoid these feelings and to instead create a relaxation response within ourselves through our pranayama practice.
The first is to watch how we are breathing, which sounds obvious. But when we chest breathe only, we are activating the sympathetic nervous system, which essentially is the fight-or-flight system in the body. Now, there are times where this can be done correctly. However, most of the time, we want to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system which tells us, “Hey, you can be calm because you're safe right now.” We do this by belly breathing. So, if you're finding yourself agitated by your practice, notice what part of your body moves as you are breathing. If it is your chest moves (demonstrates) like that, then you might want to start experimenting with bringing it down into your belly so that as you inhale, the belly moves out and as you exhale, the belly moves in. This should leave you feeling more relaxed and calm after your pranayama.
The other technique--and this one for me was huge--so, we hear yoga teachers or meditation teachers say, “Take a deep breath,” and I think especially in our type A society, we’re like, “I'm going to win the breathing” by trying to take huge, deep breaths... and then we leave our pranayama practices pissed off because we are agitated and goal-seeking within our breathing so, therefore, we become that in our thinking.
Baba Hari Dass, in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, says explicitly that our pranayama should be calm, subtle, and relaxed. If it's not those three things, if we can not do those things while we're doing pranayama, then we need to step away from the pranayama because we’re just going to get ourselves into a really flustered, crappy state of mind.
The trick to doing this is to actually breathe gently. When you hear, “deep breath” think, “soft breath”. Don't worry about the volume or the speed of the breath or anything else... just think as gentle and soft as you can.
This also means that in most pranayama techniques, there is no sound. There are exceptions to the rule, the big one, especially at Cambio, being ujjayi breath. Ujjayi is both calming and activating, and that's why it's great to use alongside asana. But when we're sitting down to do specific pranayama, we are generally doing practices like the alternate nostril breath where there should be no constriction at the back of the throat; therefore, there should be no sound to the breath. So, that's another thing--listen to your breath as you're doing pranayama. If you are sounding like this (demos a loud breath), then you're actually... really, I mean, you could see my whole body, right, my shoulders went up, everything got tense...and that’s exactly what your mind does, too.
Instead, you want it to be a soft, gentle flow of air in--don't worry about how long it is, how deep it is-- soft gentle flow of air out. Overtime as you do this, what eventually happens is the breath starts to breathe you, rather than you breathing the breath. That also takes us away from that goal setting mentality and brings us into a more subtle state of mind. In fact, the more I do this, the more I'm amazed at just how subtle I can get with the breath and how powerful that is. In our culture, a lot of times, unless something is big and huge and loud and large, we think it's not effective. In pranayama, it's actually the opposite. So think of getting more soft, more gentle, and that's when you'll really start to see the changes.
I hope that helps you with your pranayama. Think about moving through the belly and about taking gentle breathes. Thanks so much!