Gather your props: a place to sit, something to sit on that raises the hips a couple inches above the floor. Turn off your phone(s). If there are other people around you, let them know you are going to sit for a bit, and ask to not be disturbed.
Come into Sukhasana, ‘sweet’ or ‘easy sitting’ pose. See that your sit bones are propped up. Rest your hands in your lap or on your knees, relax your shoulders, and begin to notice your body settling around you. As our bones and muscles, organs and senses find their ‘places’, our awareness tunes in to the breath.
- If breathing in a relaxed and spacious manner is challenging for you, begin with some asanas that open up the body to the mechanics of the ‘breath’. If the chest is constricted such that the ribs are drawn towards pelvis, try lying over a bolster in a supported backbend; a belly-down ‘Crocodile‘ or ‘Sphinx’ can also slowly relax a tight diaphragm. Try variations on ‘Baddha Konasana‘, including supine with props under the spine and knees; or seated in a forward bend, with a rounded bolster nestled into the soft-belly area. The twisting action of a supine ‘Garudasana‘, with legs intertwined, broadens the back of the pelvis.
- If you are aware that you are a ‘reverse’ or ‘paradoxical’ breather, try the ‘Cat and Cow’ sequence on all fours or seated. As you slowly arch into the backbend of Cow and curl into the forward bend of Cat, watch the movement of your spine travel from the tailbone up to the base of the skull. Give yourself silent instructions: “Inhale into Cow, exhale into Cat; lift the heart, scoop the belly”. The inhale opens the front body and allows air to be drawn in to the lungs; the exhale shortens the front body, allowing for the compression needed to force out that used up air.
The key to ‘conscious breathing’ is to resist ambition. Sit, observe, watch, notice. When you are ready, board the vehicle of the breath, letting go of tension in the body as you settle in to the rhythmic rise and fall of the ribs, the soft expansion and contraction of the belly, and the connection between the places that are hard or rigid (your ribs, and perhaps even the secondary muscles of respiration which you might be over-contracting) and softer (your belly, throat and inner groin). When you notice your mind has stepped off the breath train, bring it back. Notice your inhale, notice your exhale. Notice the space in between.
The consciousness you develop in a focused, seated, breathing practice informs the consciousness you bring to other situations. Begin to use your expanded awareness the next time you practice asana, whether it is at home or in a class. Give yourself a ‘second wind’ and stay with the pose longer than you usually do. Bring your developing ability to be present and non-reactive to emotional situations, social interactions, and other facets of every day life. Continue to revisit and re-examine the yamas and niyamas, noticing how your understanding matures with time and practical application.
If sitting and observing your breath is one of the more challenging aspects of your yoga practice, start with 3 minutes and add more time gradually. We have all had the experience of setting lofty goals and subsequently feeling failure when we haven’t met those ‘New Year’s resolutions’ yet again. Start small, go without expectation, water and fertilize judiciously, harvest slowly.