Although Fall is officially upon us, the physical and mental changes that occur with a seasonal shift may need additional time to adjust. Just as the outside environment can not seem to make up its mind what to do, one’s inner environment may struggle to find stability when the weather is uncertain. This Silent Sunday provides a 3-step breath practice that will help to guide your body and mind into a state of equilibrium. The routine is meditative in its own right; however, because precise concentration is needed for the breath work, I suggest that the pranayama act as a lead-in to full meditation.
As always, if you are entering this practice after a night’s sleep or, alternatively, a long day, it is wise to do a few warm-ups before you sit: spinal flexes and twists, plus forward bends (standing or floor) help to stimulate and stabilize the brain and nervous system. When you feel adequately prepared, come into the seated position of your choice.
The first piece of today’s pranayama will oust any sense of restlessness or complacency that may accompany the move from Late Summer into Fall. To heighten the effect of the powerful breath, the arms move rapidly up and down at a 60 degree angle. With the elbows tucked into your sides, palms face in toward the body: As you inhale through the nose, shoot one arm up at 60 degrees, as if slicing through the air; exhale through the nose as you forcefully retract the arm back to its original position. Immediately raise the other arm up upon a strong inhale, then down as you exhale. The pace is strong, rapid, and rhythmic. As the right arm shoots up and down, turn the head to look at the arm; then, turn the head to the left as the left arm moves up and down. Continue for 3 minutes.
Next, shift into Rock Pose, if possible: Sit on your heels, with or without a pillow between your bottom and heels. Rock Pose is hailed for its role as a digestive aid; as this part of the pranayama is designed to release energetic and metabolic waste, Rock Pose enhances the effect. With your hands on your thighs, palms down, inhale deeply and steadily through the nose for a count of 6-8; suspend the inhalation calmly for 10-12 counts; then, stick the tongue out, extending it toward the chin, and exhale quickly and powerfully as you tilt the head back slightly. Continue this inhale; suspension; and Lion’s Breath for 2 minutes.
For the final segment of today’s pranayama practice, you will work with bahya kumbhaka (retained exhale, versus antara kumbhaka, or suspended inhale, as in the previous exercise). If you like, you may shift from Rock Pose to another seated position. Then, interlace your fingers in Venus Lock. Traditional practice says that for women, the left thumb will cross over the right; for men, the opposite crossing occurs. Regardless, place the alternately intertwined fingers of Venus Lock in your lap, palms facing up.
The breath is as follows: Inhale through the nose for 6-8 counts at your personal pace; exhale through the nose for the same amount of time, and then keep the breath out, or “empty,” for 12 counts. This retained exhale creates a vacuum inside the body. The feeling may be off-putting at first; however, keep your closed eyes gazing toward the nose or chin. Along with the sensation of the mudra in your lap, the inner, downward gaze will help to calm whatever nerves rise up to rebel against the cessation of breath. Eventually, your system will accept and ease into the deeply pacifying effect of the pranayama. Continue for 3 minutes.
When you are ready, take a few normal, yet full and steady breaths in and out with no count attached. As you help your body return to its natural breathing rhythm, you may continue on with another meditation; or, if your practice feels complete, lie on your back for another few minutes of svasana.