Sometimes my mind runs amok, galloping quickly, in a forward flight, at the speed of light. It reaches other universes, goes to other lives, far, far away from the here and now.
My heart wants to follow, accelerating, never getting close. My breathing accelerates, slows, is disoriented and decides to stop..apnea..the body gives in, surrenders. Impossible to travel so far, to other worlds, to other lives, to other wars. Impossible.
And I remember that I know how to go back. I just have to look for that lighthouse that will take me to solid ground, that will bring me back to the present. A less fractious, traveling part of my mind searches for the breath, concentrates on it and, like a lost ship, we return to dry land. I take a deep breath and return to the present. My breathing, feeling observed, calms down. The heart calms, always trusting the breath. In the present, in this life, in this universe, there are no storms. And, if there are, I am prepared to overcome them…
The mind is a very useful tool one that we can develop for creative and constructive functioning. We can train it to rest when we need rest and to perform at full capacity when that is what we want, instead of suffering in obsessive loops. Almost everyone lives life jumping from the past to the future, and passing through the present in an ad hoc basis, often unconsciously and almost accidentally.
If you have practiced or practice yoga, you are familiar with these phrases: “Breathe, focus attention on your breath, accompany the movement with the breath” … It seems that the breath is the protagonist of the practice of yoga. And it is! From the first yogis, who observed the influence of the breath on the body, emotions and mind, to us, in the XXI century, it has been used to focus our attention, to improve the practice of asana, to lower the level of stress and to keep us present. Luckily we have the technique of Pranayama: prāṇá: air, breath, life, life force, iāma: control, which Pantajali names in his Yoga Sutras as part of the 8 pillars of the practice of yoga and is based on breathing exercises that can help you stay calm and present, and thus achieve the state of neutrality, equanimity, ultimately, yoga: Yoga Sutra I.2 yogasccittavrtti nirodhah / Yoga is the cessation of mental fluctuations, or in other words: yoga is the cessation of mental travel, drifting.
One of the most effective pranayamas to get the mind to stop galloping aimlessly is samavritti pranayama, square breathing. Sama: equal, regular, smooth and vritti: movements or fluctuations.
Normally our natural breathing process consists of two phases: inhalation (pûraka) and exhalation (rechaka) but the pranayamas also include the retentions that can be full-lung (Antar Kumbhâka) and/or empty-lung (Bahya Kumbhâka).
How to practice square breathing:
-Sit in a comfortable posture with your back erect.
-Breathe through both nostrils comfortably and quietly. Take several full, natural breaths.
Once you have concentrated on your breathing you can begin to practice square breathing with the same duration of the four phases:
-Full lung hold
-Empty Lung Retention
You can practice with the count of 3 or 4 seconds depending on your own breathing capacity. To begin with, you can do it in cycles of 4 laps (imagine a square and go around it 4 times) and with time and training, you can extend the time of the phases. The important thing is that the 4 phases last the same amount of time (Sama vritti) and that you feel comfortable, without forcing.
Produces a feeling of calm and relaxation in the mind and body.
Improves oxygenation of the brain, allowing for greater concentration.
Square breathing can help you reduce stress and improve your mood. It positively influences conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.
It can also help treat insomnia since it helps calm your nervous system.
If you respect your rhythm, without forcing, it has no contraindications except for pregnancy. During pregnancy breath retention is not recommended so, if this is your case, you can simplify this pranayama by equalizing the inhalation and exhalation times as long as you feel comfortable and do not feel dizzy or fatigued.
As always, consult your doctor if you have any doubts.
And remember, whenever your mind travels faster than you, you can recover the present by concentrating again on your body, your body breathing, nothing is more in the here and now.
About the Author
Montse Lominchar es líder del curso de Yoga Aéreo de Unnata, enseña Yoga Aéreo Unnata® desde 2010. Actualmente dirige el Centro Yogasadhana en Ciudad Real y colabora con diferentes centros impartiendo la formación de Yoga Aéreo Unnata en español.