woman in brown jumper meditating with sound and smoke

Pranayama Meditation: The Ancient Stress-Melting Remedy

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We like to talk about meditation here at Selfish Darling. From how to start as a beginner, to creative alterntatives to the practice if your mind just doesn’t seem to obey, to some nuggets of wisdom from Deepak Chopra himself. But all in all, the most effective and beneficial way to meditate is to do so without self-expectation, or worse still –  self-criticism. But what it Pranayama meditation? And how could this be a game-changer for your meditation and general self-care rituals?

It doesn’t actually matter al all whether you’re sitting in a perfect lotus position – or even sitting at all! It doesn’t matter what meditation podcast or playlist you use – or whether you do it in complete silence. Inside, outside, light, darkness. It really is up to you! Whatever makes you feel the most comfortable and get the most out of the practice. To reach that sought-after state of mental clarity, peace, and purpose.

Bearing this in mind, here’s a particular type of mediation that can either get the ball rolling if you’re a beginner, or be the missing piece you’ve been searching for if you’re a long-time meditator and yet still struggling to reach the ultimate state of inner-peace.

Pranayama breathing meditation

If you’re prone to anxiety and overthinking then Pranayama meditation is arguably the most effective type of meditation. The word “Pranayama” literally means ‘control of breath.’ I highly recommend, as a first step to using your physical body to calm your mind,  you start being more conscious of your breathing. At first, it may seem strange, but then you will realise that thinking about your breath is working diverting your thoughts from your worries.

The word “prana” translates as vital energy. According to ancient Hindu beliefs, this spiritual spark or energy source and the mind are intimately connected (and today, this is somewhat backed up from what scientists have discussed about the brain’s Gamma electromagnetic waves!). In terms of this apparent duality between “prana” and the physical mind, the idea behind Pranayama meditation states that controlling one helps to balance out the other. However, when there is an imbalance between the two, both physical and mental complications can arise. Indeed, chronic overthinking is often a result of this imbalance between the mind and “prana.” Bringing harmony between the “prana” and mind is the aim of Pranayama meditation.

Pranayama Breathing Exercises for Overthinking

If you need the science to be convinced, did you know that slowing down your breathing actually raises carbon dioxide levels in your blood? Okay, this isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s actually necessary for relaxation – for instance, while you are sleeping. This is because it tips its pH level back to a slightly more acidic and less alkaline state. As such,  the blood’s pH decreases, and the nervous system naturally calms you down.

Whenever you’re feeling stressed or anxious – whether you’re angry after being betrayed by a loved one, are anxiously  ruminating over some task or dreaded obligation you have to do when the morning arrives, or just had a particularly stressful day at work. A clear, focused mind will help you in any given situation.

It may feel strange and unnatural at first to be actively conscious of your own breathing. Breathing is an instinct, after all. You’ll probably find that once you pay attention to it, you are breathing much shallower and faster than would be best. Most of the time, we don’t make use of the vast space in our lungs, and capacity for all that oxygenated air we are completely dependent on to survive. Considering oxygen is fundamental to our survival and is – for the most part – in abundant supply -we can be rather stingy with ourselves!

Pranayama Meditation – Preparation Exercise

Now, let’s try something.

Take in a deep breath.

Let your chest become filled with air so it expands like a balloon. It can actually expand a lot more than you probably realise. The expextation we put on ourselves as women to not take up too  much space can even affect how we breathe, causing us to be needlessly oxygen-starved. So allow yourself to take up that space you deprived yourself of before! Allow your lungs drink in the oxygen. You are alive. And you have air you need to breathe around you in abundance. This is literally ythe most improtant thing, as a living being. So fill your mind with this thought of gratitude alone – the same way you are filling your lungs…

Is that better?

I guess you’re now ready to dive into some of the specific pranayama meditation breathing exercises – each serves a particular function.

Nadi Shodhana Breathing

Intended to purify the mind and body while supplying the body with additional oxygen, Nadi Shodhana breathing helps to sharpen concentration, and yet slows down your thinking speed to a more manageable level.

All you have to do is sit up straight on a hard surface, and form a fist in your right hand. Leave the thumb, ring finger, and little finger sticking out. Next, press the right thumb onto the right nostril of your nose to cut off the air supply from othis side only. Breathe in deeply, hold it for a moment until you have the natural urge to release it, and then loosen the thumb and press the ring finger of that same hand onto the left nostril. Repeat on this side, and then continue alternating nostrils. You can do this for as long as you need to feel calm wash over you, and your stress leave you with your breath. Usually, this will be 3-10 cycles. Then you will finish feeling a lot calmer, and your mind a lot clearer.

Ujjayi Pranayama Breathing

Ujjayi Pranayama breathing, also known as “ocean breath,” calms down any racing thoughts in your mind by soothing your nervous system. This practice is a great help for insomnia and overthinking.

For this one, sit in an upright position again, but this time lightly constricting  your throat so that you can hear a faint rattling sound as you breathe – this essentially slows down your breathing. Then breathe in deeply through the nose, so that you are completely filling your lungs. Next, breathe out until you feel you, also through the nose. Repeat for as long as you need to – until your heart rate slows down, and any intrusive thoughts start to drift away along with with your slow exhalations.

Kapalbhati Breathing

Now, on to a perhaps more advanced pranayama mediation exercise: Kapalbhati breathing is said to cleanse the mind, body, and spirit. Essentially, it works by sending more oxygen to the brain to leave you feeling sharper, while also balancing the nervous system, and  the digestive system.

You know the first part by now: sit in an upright position. But this time, rest your hands on your knees or lower abdomen and breathe in deeply through the nose. Next, tighten your lower abdominal muscles, and release the breath gradually, only in short bursts. After one minute has passed, most likely having completely emptied your lungs, breathe in deeply through the nose again before exhaling slowly and completely through the mouth. Then, breathe in deeply again and repeat these short, quick exhalations, gradually picking up the speed – as much as is comfortable! Repeat only two or three times to avoid dizziness – and see how much lighter and more “zen” you feel afterwards.

Ajapa Japa Meditation

Ajapa Japa meditation is a powerful mixture of mindfulness meditation, pranayama breathing meditation, and the final spicy ingredient: mantra chanting. The term “Ajapa Japa” literally translates as  ‘the awareness and experience of a mantra’ in Sanskrit. You simply repeat a mantra of your choice. Make it something meaningful and personal to you – such as ‘I  won’t worry about what I can’t change,’ ‘I am strong and can achieve anything I put my mind to,’ or even ‘everything I need to be happy, I already have.’ 

Here’s the curious part – after repeating many times, the mantra is believed to “come to life” – by forming a part of your own consciousness. By this stage, actively repeating the mantra may become obsolete, as it has become so intertwined with your mind, that you are now immersed in it. The idea is that this positive mantra can then trickle doen into your behaviours and thoughts.

This level of meditation can take months or even al years to master. However, even when first out, you can immediately feel the benefit. The key is not regarding it as a chore, but an act of self-care to nourish your mind. It is said to increase self-awareness, mental clarity, and encourage positive thinking and mindfulness.

But for this to work, you must learn to observe your thoughts as though you are detached from them. This way, you put up a shield for even the most negative of your thoughts. Meaning that they can no-longer rule over you. You can just allow yourself to be in the moment. Focus on this one powerful message that you choose to manifest via your mantra.

Brahmari Breathing

Brahmari breathing focuses on that uncomfortable, tight-chested feeling that those who suffer from anxiety know too well. This practice is designed to calm down the mind while simultaeneously opening the lungs. Leaving your mind grounded and your body nourished.

To practise Brahmari breathing, sit up straight but relax your shoulders. Close your eyes and take a few natural breaths, without forcing or controlling them. Just ride your natural rhythm. Next, take one deep breath through the nose to fill your lungs to full capacity. Then, hile you slowly exhale, make a humming sound. Hold this sound, trying to keep it steady and constant, until you empty your lungs and need to inhale again. Then breathe in again through the nose  and repeat, humming as you breathe out.

The longer you hold the hum, the greater the effect. But remember – don’t force anything – this is supposed to be relaxing exercise, not a strain!

Pranayama Meditation: Some Final Tips

Maybe you tend to be a little skeptical of meditation. Or perhaps you have tried and simply haven’t had much luck in the past. But with a little patience and an open mind, you can use meditation to take you to a new realm of self-awareness and mental clarity. To finally free yourself from the prison of your own self-critical and often over-burdening mind.

Try to slow down your racing thoughts and overworked mind by reconnecting to the natural rhythms of your body. Is it any surpise, really, looking at how modern life has us more mentally stimulated, and yet emotionally disconnected than ever – that we are craving a space to do nothing but breathe, and get a much-needed break from our thoughts?

Have you ever tried Pranayama meditation, or are you now convinced to give it a go? Let us know how you get on in the comments!

Roxanna. Xx

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