Breathing techniques

Warm Up that Frozen Response between Fight or Flight

breath of fire

Discoveries on How Yoga Reconnects us with Ourselves

During challenges or times of stress, our body can react in different ways: it can either respond “actively” by Fighting the threat or “passively” fleeing or Flying away from the threat. The term ‘fight-or-flight’ represents the choices that our ancient ancestors had when faced with danger in their environment. But, there is another way of responding, and that is by Freezing: not doing anything either by choice (like many animals playing dead) or forced because we feel the situation is just out of our control.

I have been in Colombia in a strict lockdown for a while. Most people I know have decided to learn something new, invent new jobs or read all the books they can put their hands on. Me? I felt Frozen, not wanting to do anything: not yoga, not dance, not even watch the millionthreehundredandtwo yoga videos that all of a sudden were available to practise from home. There was nothing I could do but wait.

Then I realised there was one thing I could do: listening to myself. That inner voice trying to find the answers to “what I really want to do now?” question. Sometimes I am told just to sleep, or just eat and watch a brainless movie. Sometimes I am advised to breathe, consciously. The other day I noticed my body didn’t reject the idea of trying a short Kundalini class I found online: This was Kiranjot trying to seduce me with a Kriya for Elevation: “a Kriya is a specific sequence of postures or actions for a specific purpose… Something like a recipe, each step works in term to create a specific effect for the body, mind and spirit”. Promising… I mumbled from the bed.

I love Kundalini. I used to practice every day 10 years ago. Yet, practising these days was like doing something for the very first time… and so hard!

I am not sure why I am surprised, Kundalini has this magical mixture of both soft and powerful breathing exercises, with chanting and physical movement to awaken myself as a whole. Let’s see some elements from this class one by one:

Chanting Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo

“I bow to the All-That-Is”, or “I bow to the Divine Wisdom within myself”. This a powerful mantra both to protect and connect to the highest source of wisdom. For me, this is like the doorbell I need to ring first when I want to call for my awareness to come back to my body.

I have to confess I am not sure I can feel the Divine Wisdom every time I chant, but what I do feel and enjoy is the vibration created in my body. It makes me feel present and, crazy enough, not alone. I see it as a doorbell to the door of our own body: We can ring it every time we need to call inside. I know at the beginning we can feel shy or uncomfortable chanting in an unknown language, so you can also use any sound (OOOMMGGG, AAOOO, OOO, ZZZ, etc.) that helps you create that vibration within. Whatever you chant, to go for it fully, I feel the louder and clearer I chant the words/letters, the stronger the power in me. Give it a go and see if you like it. If you don’t, no worries: we can always find a different doorbell!

Breath of Fire

This is another S.O.S. technique to bring us back to the present moment: this type of breathing helps to simultaneously awaken the mind, the physiology, and spirit. Sometimes we feel we are not in our body, or we cannot stay in the present time, or we feel the body is frozen as I was. BoF is great because it creates an energy inside us we cannot ignore, heating up, stimulating and awakening at our own rhythm. I have also heard it is great to “push any flu away”, we just need to practise regularly or at least as soon as we feel one is coming.

Inhale once through the nose and exhale forcefully through the nose, quickly pumping the belly button towards the spine. Focus on the exhalation only, making a sound like a short sneeze. Start slow, you might feel light-headed or dizzy.

Twisting and flexing the spine

I love these simple movements because I can feel the benefits immediately! They are fundamental to prepare the thorax, diaphragm and rib cage for breathing exercises. Also, they are amazing to fight the Brain fog or tiredness after too many hours working.

For twisting, you just need to place the hands on your shoulders and twist left to right, allowing the sitz bones to connect with the Earth. Inhale when twisting to left, exhale to right. For flexing the spine, in a crossed leg position holding your legs with your hands, open your chest forward and inhale leaving the shoulders back, and then curve the spine backwards like a C exhaling. Some teachers also use these movements to stimulate the energy and awaken the Dormant Serpent.

Sat Kriya Meditation

It is a key practice of traditional Kundalini Yoga and it’s a great practice to help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety: It encourages circulation of panic life force through all the chakras.

We sit on our heels, elongate the spine pointing the crown of the head to the sky and extend the arms over the head; fingers interlaced. We forcefully exhale bringing the belly button towards the spine chanting Sat, then we fully expand the belly chanting Nam. It is very important that the abdomen moves back and forward/expanding and emptying to create energy.

Savasana

By almost the end we arrive at the floor in a neutral, resting position. Hopefully, by now we have created enough energy or moved it within, so now we just want a moment to consciously settle that energy down and pacify the sense organs.

Soften the root of the tongue, the wings of the nose, the channels of the inner ears, and the skin of the forehead, especially around the bridge of the nose between the eyebrows. Let the eyes sink heavy to the back of the head, then turn them downward to gaze at the heart. Release your brain to the back of the head. We tend to forget to allow time to do nothing, to let the body be heavy and grounded allowing the energy to settle and absorb what we just created with practice.

Chanting Sat Nam

“I am truth” or “Truth is my essence”, Sat Nam is about expressing your true identity, not only for the benefit of yourself but also for others. No one else can express the exact combination of frequencies that you do. You are connected to all there is—the vast universal truth. In an infinite universe, you are unique. For the universe to be complete, your vibration is needed.

If nothing else, this is something I do to exercise my own voice being used. Even if we might not fully understand the traditional meaning, we do want to be able to express, to call out, to shout out loud in case the previous touches at the doorbell were not enough to open the door.

See how it feels, give it a good try of at least three times and decide if you like it or not. There are no universal solutions; we all need to find our ways to connect!

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