Holding Your Breath

Pranayama Benefits for Physical and Emotional Health

Stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to just notice your breath. Don’t worry about changing it, just observe how you breath when you aren’t paying attention. What is your breath like? For me, at pretty much any given moment unless I’m doing yoga, my breath is painfully shallow. Often I’ll notice that I’ve actually been holding my breath! I particularly notice this tendency when I’m feeling anxious.

For most of my life, I never thought about breathing at all. Breathing is unconscious, it’s a reflex, our bodies are taking care of that for us. These are the things I remember learning when I was growing up. Without yoga, I never would have learned the power that is held inside of my breath. I had no idea that we had the ability to retrain ourselves to have more beneficial breathing patterns or that the breath had any significance besides keeping us alive.

Society tells us that we need all of these magic fixes for our depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. We medicate and distract ourselves, doing anything to avoid the signals our bodies are sending us. We are never taught how to value and honor our breath for the miracle that it is. In my opinion, pranayama (breathwork) is one of the most advanced aspects of yoga and also the most important.

Living in a world of excess, it seems impossible that there could be so many life changing benefits from something as simple as breathing. Yet there is a breathwork practice for anything that you may want to achieve. Through the power of our breath we can energize ourselves, we can calm our nervous systems, we can elevate our mood, we can cool ourselves down, warm ourselves up, we can even experience altered states of consciousness! And we can do all of this for free, regardless of where we are, regardless of who we are. If you’re living, you can practice pranayama.

Unfortunately, I am still far away from unlocking the full potential of my own breath. Even after years of yoga and meditation, I am still working on just being able to notice my breath as I move through my day. I’ve particularly been trying to focus on checking in with my breath when I feel anxious. When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks on, the body naturally makes our breath quick and shallow. It is under the assumption that it needs to prepare to either flee or attack whatever threat may be nearby. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived experience. When we find ourselves perpetually in this heightened state, we start to experience various mental and physical health issues.

Interestingly enough, this feedback loop works in both directions. Our mind is usually the one running the show, telling the body it’s time to act. The body has just as much control over the mind though. If we can learn to recognize our stress response, we can override it with our breath. Now, this is no easy feat, and it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and eventually we can all cultivate a beautiful symbiotic relationship with our own breath.

There is so much pleasure to be found in the simple act of breathing. One of the most valuable parts of my last acid experience was finding a stronger connection to my breath. As I laid in the grass with my boyfriend, enjoying the sun streaming down through the leaves above us and listening to the hum of locus in the background, I became intoxicated with the feeling of my own inhales and exhales. Each sip of air felt incredible, fresh oxygen, the gentle expansion of my lungs. Each out breath was a gorgeous release, a cleansing. I could have spent the whole evening just savoring my own breathing.

That experience has stayed with me since then. I am still able to tap into that sense of gratitude and wonder as I breathe. My breath alone can be better than any drug or addiction out there. And it’s mine to enjoy whenever I wish without consequence. I’ve even come up with a little visualization that helps me get back in touch with my LSD experience. I think it would work well for anyone who has been or still is a smoker.

As you breath in, just imagine you are taking a nice long, delicious drag off of a cigarette, vape, or joint. I genuinely think one of the reasons humans seem to enjoy smoking things so much is because it allows us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. You may even find it helpful to visualize the air as smoke moving in and out of your body. This would be an excellent visualization to try the next time you find yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow.

Wherever you may be in regard to a pranayama practice, for the rest of the day, just try to come back to your breath whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious. Are you holding your breath? Is washing the dishes really that unpleasant or is it because you are unconsciously trying to not breath until you’re finished? No matter what is sparking that anxiety in me, checking in with my breath is always a huge help.

Let me know what your experience has been like regarding breathwork. When did you first realize the significance of the breath? What are some of your favorite pranayama practices? If you decide to try my little visualization, let me know how it went for you.

Pranayama for Anxiety: 4 Breathing Exercises to Try | YogiApproved.com

Free Self-Care Apps

For the last few days I’ve been exploring the App Store in an attempt to find some free mindfulness, meditation, and journaling apps. I expected that a lot would be limited and offer a more robust, premium option. At first I was thrilled at all the options there were. Then I realized that most of them were disgustingly dishonest. They appeared to be free, at least partially, only to reveal upon download that you had to sign up for a monthly membership to access literally any of the features. After downloading over a dozen different apps only to be disappointed, I decided to share the two I did manage to find.

One – Breathwork: Breathing Exercises

Breathwrk | Breathing Exercises

After seeing the other options out there, I am even more impressed than I initially was by this incredible, completely free, app. This app has a smooth, pleasant, minimalist design. It’s very easy to navigate. There are so many options available for anyone interested in pranayama, whether they be an experienced yogi or a total beginner. I think this app would be great for kids as well! There are short breathing exercises available to help you get into whatever kind of headspace you’d like. There are targeted practices for energy, relaxation, sleep, focus, etc. Each exercise also comes with calming background music and a guided visualization to help you focus on your inhale and exhale and make sure you are extending or holding for the suggested amount of time. It also contains breathwork courses, progress trackers, and reminders. There is a premium version, but it is not pushed on you, nor is it really necessary to experience all the wonderful benefits.

Two – Instar Affirmation Writer

Instar Affirmation Writer App Ranking and Store Data | App Annie

This app is another super helpful tool to have if you are trying to work on becoming more mindful, intentional person. Not only does this app give you a handful of free affirmations and the ability to save them to a catalogue that you can break up into categories, it also teaches you how to craft your own personalized affirmations. As you type out the words, the app will give you general prompts such as, “first person”, and highlight the positive areas of what you’ve written in green and the less beneficial words in red. These might be words we often use without thinking such as: have to, should, must, etc. You are given the option to add a photo and record an audio file of you speaking the affirmation as well. Not only does this assist you in making affirmations that resonate with you and your personal goals, it also helps us recognize our self sabotaging language and be more mindful of the way we speak to ourselves and others. This app allows you to take an active role in reframing your mind.


Given how much time and effort I had to put in just to find these two free apps, I appreciate them all the more. There is nothing more irritating than trying to find support and tools for self-improvement and finding sickening marketing tactics and thinly veiled manipulation instead. I highly recommend you download these two, honest, helpful apps if you are interested in using technology to help you incorporate more mindfulness into your day. Support developers like these that are actually offering a worthwhile service to people that need it, instead of using their vulnerability as an opportunity to take advantage of someone and make a quick buck.

Yogic Wisdom

As I drove to my yoga class this morning, I was contemplating what I would say before starting practice. I have been having some minor issues involving poor circulation recently, so I thought I could emphasize directional breathwork. Teacher often tell their students to visualize the breath traveling through the body, often down to the soles of the feet or the tips of the toes.

Thanks to medical science we know so much about the body and the breath that the original yogis never could have known with any certainty. We know that our breath is absorbed by the lungs into the bloodstream so that oxygen can be transported throughout the whole body. So in a sense we really can “breath into our toes.”

I found this thought rather amusing so I continued pondering it. I began to wonder what other ways the wisdom within these ancient teachings may come to be better explained through science. I know we have come to learn even more in the last few decades about the incredible power the mind has to influence the physical body. Placebos can have real healing effects if we believe that they will, for instance. We are also somewhat able to control our heart rate and cortisol levels with mindful attention to the breath.

I wonder if directional breathwork can actually have the power to guide more oxygen to different areas of the body. Perhaps just focusing on the blood circulating, bringing that breath into every cell can really physically impact the way the body is working. Yet another concept I would love to have tested scientifically in a controlled experiment. I often wish I had my own research team at my disposal to gather new, interesting data for me. Without that these are all simply intriguing thoughts.

However, anecdotally, I have noticed that “sending the breath” to the areas of the body feeling the most tension in a pose seems to make a noticeable difference. I’ve always felt that helps my muscles to relax and find that sukha and sthira, the ease within the effort. I have little doubt of the breath’s power. And I am always finding new ways to explore that power.

Even though I am not sure I’ll ever discover the amount of truth behind this idea, I am going to try to implement it in my practice as if it were. After all, it couldn’t hurt. The next time I settle in for my daily meditation, I am going to focus not only on my breath but sending that breath into my toes, my fingertips, the tip of my nose. All of the extremities that are effected most by poor circulation. Who knows? I may even begin to notice a difference in my body. If you decide to experiment with this visualization in your own practice, let me know how it goes! I hope somehow it can be helpful.