A Peaceful Pranayama

The post I had planned for this week will be on hold until next week. Here in New Zealand, our usual routines have been upset, for some quite traumatically, by a severe 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

The first thing to realise about earthquakes is that they are not a one-off thing. Aftershocks can go on for years, and sometimes they are as bad or even worse than the first event. The ongoing nervous alert can make us feel wired, but underneath the tiredness from sleep deprivation and fear can build up.

The same happens during any time of ongoing stress or trauma from all kinds of difficult life situations: an unhappy relationship, the death of a loved one, a difficult job.

Throughout life it pays to look for signs of fatigue: trouble finishing sentences, cravings to smoke, drink, eat takeouts. These can indicate emotional fatigue, intellectual burnout, physical exhaustion or some combination of them. On some level, it doesn’t matter what the reasons are. The important thing is what you do about it.

The earlier you catch these signs, the easier they will be to shift. When they mount up for months or years, they become integrated into our neurology and harder to unravel.

Often when we’re like this we say things like “let’s do something different. Let’s go to the park. Let’s have a BBQ”. We look up our friends and organise parties to avoid worrying. But what our nervous system is actually requesting with these cravings, subconsciously, is safety and familiarity. That’s why our old coping strategies from younger years kick in: they remind us of simpler, safer times.

Before reaching for the beer or wine try this quick breathing practice to soothe jangly nerves. The whole thing should take only three minutes…

  1. if preferred, find a private place (bathroom, bedroom) so you don’t feel self-conscious
  2. make your exhales long — twice, three times or four times longer than your inhale
  3. do this by blowing out between pursed lips like you would blow out a candle — only do it slowly, in a thin stream of breath, without force.
  4. at the end of each exhale, hold your breath out for a few moments. No air in your lungs.

Lengthening the exhale like this reduces the urgency of the inhale and is a short, powerful way to reset the involuntary part of our nervous system.1

Do this for a minimum of three to five breaths. That will be enough to make a difference — or keep it up for a few minutes.

Although it’s better if you can sit or lie down for this (setting aside “me time” is part of the benefit), you can also do it moving around when resting is not an option (e.g. in the shower, while walking). You might not notice the effect so much but it’ll still be there, and every little bit helps!

Then have a glass of water (and chase it down with a beer if you want :) ).

Repeat as desired (I’ve done it six times and counting today).

Originally published at Zig Zag Yogi.