|Art by Arna Baartz|
PRANA. BREATH. LIFE FORCE.
It's no secret that —for women, people of color, children, and the LGBT+ community—living under patriarchy is a struggle. There is no denying that we are devalued, demeaned, de-humanized, and destroyed little by little at the core of who we are. For some, this means death—as we are killed by our partners, by officers of the law and those in authority.
As you will see throughout this book, there are many techniques for coping with the daily struggle.
One of these is pranayama, conscious breathing. Prana is your breath, what you bring in; it is your life force, for without breath, you would cease to be.
Your breath is a fundamental tool in being able to control your emotions and your mood. It can reduce stress and tension; give you clarity of thought; increase focus; increase patience; reduce and prevent toxins in your body that we are continuously bringing in via food, drink and air. It does this while also expanding your lung capacity; cleansing your blood and relaxing and calming you. Just a slight change in the breath creates a huge impact.
To have a daily pranayama/meditation practice, it is optimum to have a designated place in your home. You can have a small altar or just some flowers, incense, and a candle. There is some wonderful meditation music out there; find some that speaks to your spirit. Most importantly, shut off your phone. Let this become your special place— a place of quiet and serenity.
Your candles are lit, incense wafting through the room. Sit yourself comfortably in easy pose, cross-legged on the floor. If you are unable to sit on the floor, a straight-backed chair works well. You want to be comfortable, but it is important that the spine be straight.
You want to center yourself, to be in the moment, in that time, in that place. Bring your hands into prayer position at your chest, or you may simply rest your hands on your knees. Close your eyes and gently roll them up so that they are focused upon your third eye, that space between your eyebrows in the middle of your forehead. Begin to slowly and deeply inhale and exhale. Take your time, don’t rush through it. Really feel each breath; on your breath. Now, with each inhale, bring into your body a sense of peace, a sense of calm. Let it infuse your entire being, beginning with the heart chakra and working outward. With each exhale, release any stress, tension or negativity you are holding within your body, even that of which you may not even be consciously aware. Allow yourself to let it go.
You can continue this for as long as you are comfortable. If monkey-mind thoughts come calling, gently push them away and continue with the breath. When you are finished, take several deep breaths while stretching your arms up to the skies.
This long, deep breathing is for when you have the time to sit and focus on that precious conscious breath. This breath can also be used as a "quick fix." Find someplace quiet and breathe in the positive and breathe out the negative. The perfect thing with conscious breathing, is that it is always with you. Calm is only a breath away.
I will be sharing with you some breath techniques, all of which come from Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, which I have been honored and proud to be teaching for 20 years.
For Calmness – Inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8. This is a good breath to practice when you are feeling stressed or anxious. It produces a calm and relaxed state of being.
For Relaxation – Breathe only through your left nostril. The left side of your body relates to the moon, which is the calming and receptive side of your body. For women, this will connect you to the feminine energy of the moon.
"U" Breathing – Purifying breath. Try to visualize the path of the breath. Inhale and visualize light flowing down the same side of the nostril, down the spine to your first chakra. As you hold the breath, feel and see the light swirling and growing at the base of the spine.
One Minute Breath – Inhale for 20 seconds, hold for 20 seconds, exhale for 20 seconds. There will be an immediate calming of anxiety, fear and tension.
Stress Relief and Cleansing of Past Emotions – Hands are in front of your heart center in a tent - fingers touching; palms not. Long, slow deep breathing, segmented inhaling for a count of 5, suspend the breath for a count of 5 and segmented exhaling for a count of 5. Eyes should be focused at the tip of the nose.
Anti-Stress Breathing – Sit in easy pose (on floor, legs crossed, spine straight) or sit in a straight-backed chair. It is important that your spine be straight, your shoulders back and your head level. Press the tips of your thumbs and little fingers together. Extend your arms out somewhere between your heart and belly button, arms slightly bent at elbows. Focus your eyes on the tip of your nose (if this makes you dizzy, close your eyes). Inhale through the mouth with a long, deep and powerful breath and exhale through the nose. Then inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. It may take a little bit of time to start to work, but it will calm inner stress and tension. Continue for at least 3 minutes.
Mudra for Preventing Stress – Try this one to prevent stress from even starting. (The Sanskrit word "mudra," in yoga, is a hand position. Mudra is a Sanskrit word.) Sit in easy pose with a straight spine. Relax your arms, and bend your elbow, bringing your forearms in front of you and parallel to the ground. Bring your hands, palms up, to meet in front of you, a little above your belly button. Rest the back of the left hand in the palm of the right hand. Keep your fingers together and straight. Your breath will be long, slow and deep and through the nostrils only. Do for at least 3 minutes.
All of these breaths can be done for any length of time, and/or are available for immediate use. There's nothing wrong with finding a quiet spot or even a public restroom to focus on your breath and re-gain control of yourself or a situation.
While nothing is a miracle, I am positive that, with practice of these breaths, you will find yourself feeling calmer and better able to cope with some of the injustices and atrocities that are present in the patriarchal world.
(Truth is My Identity)
An excerpt from How To Live Well Despite Capitalist Patriarchy.