Yoga is a many faceted discipline that can benefit people regardless of lifestyle or background. Most Westerners are already familiar with the variety of body shapes, or postures, one makes as part of an asana practice. The Sanskrit word asana, in its simplest translation, means seat. A yoga practice comprised only of moving through postures can be rewarding in its own right, but a truly developed yoga practice has so much more to offer.
In addition to asana are the benefits of meditation, or dhyana in Sanskrit. Meditation is known to have many positive effects when practiced regularly, including increased awareness, clarity, emotional stability, and general feelings of equanimity and calmness.
Incorporating a regular meditation practice can seem daunting for some, which is where breathwork can come into the picture. Known in Sanskrit as pranayama, manipulating the breath can also have emotional and psychological benefits, prepare one for meditation, and/or be used to enhance one’s asana practice.
Sama Vritti, or equal breathing, is a simple breathwork exercise that can have a calming effect that is excellent for stress relief. It can more comfortably lead one into a meditation practice or be implemented at the end of an asana session prior to savasana (corpse pose).
Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Usually this means cross-legged on a mat or cushion, but could also mean sitting in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes, bring your awareness to your breath and breathe normally for 3-5 cycles as you observe each inhale and exhale.
Next, begin counting your inhale to the count of four. Pause at the top of the breath and then exhale to the count of four. Pause again at the bottom of the exhale. Repeat for 3-5 cycles or for as long as it’s comfortable. To deepen your pranayama practice, you can extend the pause at top for the count of four while retaining the breath and also holding out the breath for a count of four at the bottom of the exhale, which is called square breathing.
You can extend the count as you advance your breathwork, but for this pranayama exercise the primary objective is to fully inhale and fully exhale to the same count. If you have difficulties, just return to breathing to the count of four for each inhale and each exhale and only pause momentarily in between each; you will still receive a benefit from the practice.