Cultivating calm in the storm: The Breath / by Brian Kroeker


In the previous blog post, I offered some suggestions from the Classical Yoga tradition on how to cultivate a calm, serene mind when engaging with different types of people. This week, I offer another Yoga Sutra that gives us a practice to try... 

Patanjali offers us a suggestion on how to cultivate a calm, peaceful mental-emotional state (citta prasadanam) in Yoga Sutra 1.34:

प्रच्छर्दनविधारणाभ्यां वा प्राणस्य
pracchardana vidharanabhyam va pranasya
[a peaceful, serene mind results by paying special attention] to the exhalation and the retention of the breath.

Here, Patanjali offers a clear technique of lengthening the exhalation and retaining the inhalation — known in Sanskrit as rechaka (long, slow exhalation from the belly) and kumbhaka (gently holding the breath after inhalation) — a fundamental technique of Hatha Yoga, and integral to the vinyasa method of T. Krishnamacharya, which combines yoga postures and breath work in a way that might be described as “moving meditation”.

A recent New York Times article on the benefits of controlled breathing (aka pranayama) begins with the same practice:

“Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four times. Congratulations. You’ve just calmed your nervous system.”

“Studies have found [...] that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.”

Once again, modern science proves what yogis have known for centuries! 

Try this simple 2-minute breath and movement exercise to experience the calming effect of long, smooth exhaling and gentle breath retention for yourself:

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Read the full NYT article: