I’m sure many of you know that meditation, breathing techniques, and yoga relaxation practices can alter our nervous system, bringing about states of great calmness and feelings of ease. But what about when we feel too fidgeting to sit or lie still, or our mind just won’t play ball and no matter how hard we try we can’t focus even for a moment on the meditation or relaxation technique? In these situations, moving in rhythm with the breath can provide a pathway to calming our nervous system that’s more easily accessible.
The past two months I’ve written about sun salutation type sequences, why they’re practiced, the mental and emotional benefits of honouring and paying reverence to the natural world, and how this type of practice can have a particular effect on our intervertebral discs that can make us taller. Continuing the theme this month, I’m writing about another benefit of this type of yoga, the meditative effect of movements practiced in rhythm with the breath.
Slow rhythmical movement helps to quiet the mind and encourages us to connect to the felt sense of the body rather than focus on the thoughts of the mind. Generally, when we move in rhythm with the breath, we slow the breath down in order to pace one movement with one breath. This slowing of the breath helps to further downregulate the nervous system and if we introduce Ujjayi breathing – the pranayama/breathing technique where the breath makes a soft whispered sound – this contributes to vagal tone, adding to the soothing effect.
From the stance of yoga history and philosophy, one aspect of yoga practice is the merging of the physical with the ever more subtle – the body with the breath, the breath with the mind. Moving in rhythm with the breath is a practice that helps us to cultivate a sense of connecting the body, breath, and mind. I say a sense of, because of course they are all connected, it’s just that we don’t often experience them as such.
As well as calming us down, using movement and breath this way we can feel more embodied, grounded and present. We can practice moving in rhythm with the breath as a standalone practice to help us get on with our day in a more balanced frame of mind, or as a gateway from action to stillness, perhaps in the evening before bed.
When I want to calm myself, moving in rhythm with my breath is one of my go-to techniques, especially if I am needing to downregulate from an activity or situation where my blood pressure has been raised. Often it’s not practical to practice what we may think of as a full sun salute or moon salute type sequence, there might not be enough space or time. In these moments I simply stand or sit with my feet around hip-distance apart, start with my arms alongside my body, and on an inhale raise my arms out to the side and up, on the exhale, I lower my arms back out to the side and down. As I continue my aim is to slow my breath down, feel into the movement of my arms and the sensations in my shoulders and ribcage. This can be done almost anywhere.
Next time you are feeling in need of calming yourself, have a go and see what happens. I’m interested to hear how you get on.
Keep taking good care of yourself, Clair.