Just breathe!

How do I start yoga? Quite a common question yes?

Most people are used to enrolling in the neighbourhood yoga class, where the instructor quickly takes you through preparatory stretching, gets into simple postures and wraps it up with a 5 or 10 minute meditation routine.

While this may work in a gymnasium or a karate class, yoga is a lot different.

As said earlier, yoga is a way of life, not just a class every 2-3 days.

And the best place to start, is at home.

And the best way to start, is to recognize how you breathe.

It’s funny that something you do all the time, and something that keeps you alive, is so underrated.

People jump into confusing postures, when all they need to do is focus on sorting out their breathing,

Today, let us have a look at how we can observe our breath.

For the journey of a hundred years, starts with a single breath.

Did you know that most of the time, you breathe through one nostril only?

Yes, this is true. Try it for yourself. Hold your palm below your left nostril and breathe normally…now hold it below your right nostril. You will find that one nostril dominates the other. Repeat this exercise after around 2 hours. You may find that the other nostril is dominant now. Try again after 2 hours. It switches back. And so on and so forth. 

We have all heard of prānāyāma, which as I mentioned earlier, is confused to be a synonym of breath. Prānāyāma can thus be thought of as āyāma of Prānā ( loosely translated as life force), where āyāma means expansion (and in some definitions, contraction as well). In other words, it is the manipulation of prānā – techniques to redirect, store and control it. Ancient Indian sages also studied breath and prānā more intensely – they analysed every aspect of breath, and developed a science around it. 

This science is called Swara Yoga.

Swara means ‘the sound of one’s own breath’, and yoga means union. Swara yoga thus enables the state of union to be reached by the means of one’s own breath. 

Observing your breath

It can’t get simpler than this. All you need to do, is to repeat the exercise that I described above, for 3 days. Every 2 hours. Note down the time, the dominant nostril, and also the state of mind you are in at that time (happy, sad, agitated, relaxed etc.). There will be instances where you are unable to determine the dominant nostril, and when your breath flows through both nostrils equally. This happens for 2-4 minutes once every 60-90 minutes. This is sushumna, and it is this state that is apt for meditation (more on that another day). Collate this data and review it – if you did the exercise diligently, you will notice distinct patterns – a correlation between the time, your state of mind, and the way your breath flows. This is your introduction to swara yoga:)

Alternate nostril breathing

Also called nadi-shodhana pranayama. Here is my article on the subject – you can use this as a guide to get introduced to nadi-shodhana – this technique is very important in swara yoga. Try the 4+4 ratio first – breathing in for four counts (can use tick-tick 1, tick-tick 2) and exhaling for four counts. Do 8 cycles, where inhalation and exhalation together make one cycle.

Om chanting

The simplest (but most powerful) mantra is Aum. While mantra chanting is a process in itself, and requires a lot of preparation and process to follow, you can get a glimpse of its effects by chanting Aum for 2 minutes after the exercise in gratitude that I described earlier. And follow the same instructions – relaxed seating position, eyes closed and head turned slightly upwards.

The concepts and techniques that I have described above are vast subjects on their own, and we will explore them in the days and months to come. My intention here is to lay a foundation, that is not shallow, but deep-rooted in understanding the basis of these ancient practices.