Muscle relaxation, posture enhancement, stress relief, and improved quality of sleep: these are just some of the awesome benefits that can be gained from the ancient practice of yoga.
You don’t have to be a soccer mom in a yoga studio to use these time-proven principles to clear your mind and unleash your potential.
The ancient breathing and balancing principles you’ll learn today can be put into practice immediately, whether you’re looking for the mental clarity to stay alert on the night watch, or if you’re simply looking for a way to quiet your mind after a long day on duty.
Sailors, Marines and civilians take part in a yoga training workshop at camp Pendleton, California.
First, we need to learn how to breathe
I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve been breathing my whole life. Ever since I was a baby, actually.”
Well, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. And it’s highly likely that nobody ever sat you down and showed you the right way. The ancient art and practice of breathing, or Pranayama, is the foundation of all yoga practice. Before you find yourself all twisted up into a pretzel, you’ve got to learn the basics.
By the way, by reading this, you are now aware of every breath you take. Thank us after your first pose 😉
The Three-Part Breathing Technique
The most basic breathing technique is the 3-Part Breath. As the name suggests, it focuses on three parts: the abdomen, the midchest, and the upper chest.
Before you begin this exercise, exhale first through your nose, making sure every last bit of air is expelled from your lungs, firmly tightening your ripped six-pack abs, then slowly releasing them.
How to do it:
- Abdomen: Start by inhaling slowly through your nose to your stomach, letting that beer belly you’ve been sucking in reach out as far as it can go.
- Mid-Chest: Next, let the air in through your mid-chest. Let your ribs slowly expand freely, as an eagle of freedom might puff out its chest.
- Upper-Chest: Next, let the air flow into every crevice of your upper chest, feel the oxygen permeate through your lungs, and imagine majestic wings unfurling from your back and shoulders, setting that tension up to break free.
- Let it go: Finally, let everything out through your nose. Release the air out at a moderate, controlled pace as you might imagine a SpaceX Falcon rocket slowly landing in an upright position.
Repeat until clarity of mind is achieved.
The Skull-Cleansing Technique (AKA Breath of Fire)
This breathing technique will give you a bigger headrush than a flaming skeleton riding a motorcycle. Image: Giphy
Is there a rush of energy you seek? Do you wish to cleanse your body, clear your mind, and awaken your senses using only the skies around you?
Known to some as the Skull Cleansing Technique, to others, the Breath of Fire, and to the ancient masters, Kapalabhati Pranayama, this high-frequency breathing method can strengthen your spirit with the force and wits you need to face down your greatest mortal enemies.
An EEG study even found that this technique is proven to increase the speed of decision making for tasks requiring intense focus.
How to do it:
- Prepare yourself: This technique is designed to awaken your inner dragon, and uncloud your senses. Do not attempt this breathing exercise if you have recently eaten, or if you are planning on sleeping anytime soon.
- Breathe from your abdomen: Just like step 1 of the Three-Part Breathing Technique, let the air flow directly into your lower abdomen. Focus on quick short breaths, releasing the air in small bursts from your nostrils only.
- Repeat for 20-30 cycles in quick succession: As you breathe rapidly, your target exhale rate should fall between 90-120 BPM, and it may sound like you’re imitating a bicycle tire being pumped. Let your haters laugh at the sound you’re making as you clear your mind.
- Emerge victorious: With the rush of mental clarity you just received, seize the day, and execute the downfall of your rivals.
The Breath of Victory (AKA Ocean Breath)
Let Ocean Breath guide you through the tunnel to relaxation. Source: Giphy
Do you ever find yourself wishing you were laid back on a beach somewhere, with no sound but the wind in your hair, the crush of tubular ocean waves, and the chattering of a distant seagull?
The Breath of Victory, or Ujjayi Pranayama, is a breathing skill you can use to reflect on your day’s hard fought victories and prepare you for sleep, or it can be used as an easy way to take a mental vacation for a moment or two of mindfulness.
- Begin with a few breaths of the 3-part technique. Saturate your lungs with fresh air.
- Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. Think of every tension, frustration you hold and get ready to release that pressure.
- Constrict the back of your throat with your throat muscles, as if you were speaking in a whisper. This exhale will be audible, so keep your muscles loose. Although you’re limiting your breath, breathing should not be tense.
- Exhale slowly for a count of 4-6 seconds, making a quiet “HA” sound. Visualize that you’re a surfer gliding on a wave in slow motion, and let your whole body relax as you celebrate your conquest.
Once you have breathing down, here are some quick poses or asanas to get you started.
Easy Pose (Sukhsana)
You might ask yourself, “Is this even a pose?” Yes it is. Easy pose, or Sukhsana, is a simple cross-legged pose that’s perfect for breathing exercises or meditation. Sitting in this pose allows you to stretch your legs and ankles, allowing you to limber up for the trials ahead.
How to do it:
- Sit cross-legged, with your spine straight, your head and neck aligned, and your hands on your knees or lap.
Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
This pose is fantastic for building balance and core strength, while helping you to gain the leg flexibility to overcome any obstacle. Although it is one of the simplest beginner poses, this asana is much harder than it looks to hold, and it will feel different every day.
It is said that the ancient sadhus, or holy men, from medieval India would train themselves to achieve meditation in this pose.
How to do it:
- Starting from a regular standing position, shift your weight completely onto your left foot, with the entire sole of your left foot firmly planted on the ground.
- Next, place your right foot into your left inner thigh. Your hips should remain open, with your bent knee pointed towards the side.
- You can hold your hands above your head, or pointed directly upwards.
- Hold this pose for 20-60 seconds, exhaling as you release from this pose.
Headstand Pose (Sukhsana)
Not for the faint of head or heart, this expert-level pose requires a high degree of core strength and balance to attempt.
If you think you’re ready to take on a full-on headstand, check out this video guide.
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