Life is a beautiful complexity of flowing emotions, events, thoughts and awareness. Some days we feel excited for life just by seeing the sunshine through a bedroom window. Other days everything feels clouded by a haze. The excited, easily flowing days are great, but what about the frustrated days when nothing seems to be going right and stress piles up on your desk and body?
Those are the moments to exclaim ‘Wahe Guru!’ and use the breath to powerfully change your experience. Wahe Guru is an exclamation in the Gurmukhi language of complete ecstatic awe of the Divine. Simply saying this mantra will reset your vibration and get you on your way to finding calm.
Your breath is a powerful energy within your body. It is the carrier of prana, your life-force. We utilize prana throughout our day in everything we do: physical activity, communicating with others, even in feeling emotions. Negative thoughts and worry use up our reserve of prana, which compounds the effects of stress, leaving us feeling more depleted.
When feeling stressed, tired or confused, take a moment to assess the breathing by placing one hand on your navel and observing the movement of the breath. Sit up in a comfortable position with your back straight and legs crossed in front of you, if you are on the floor or with your feet firmly planted on the ground if you are sitting on a chair. Then begin to steer yourself to a calm breath with the following technique: inhale fully so your belly, ribs and chest expand as you breathe in, then exhale completely and feel your navel contract towards your spine. Begin to slow each segment of the breath so it is long and deep, then gently settle into the ease and flow of energy circulating throughout the body.
Once you’ve calmed your breath you are seconds away from regaining peace. In Kundalini Yoga the breath is used as a powerful tool for transformation. Just as we have a multitude of emotions, Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, offers a multitude of options for dealing with those mental states. Here are two simple and effective tools to experiment with:
1)To cool and calm- Sitali Pranayam: this is a calming and physically cooling breath that can help you stay alert. It is helpful for lowering fevers and aiding with digestion. It is a great breath to use during the hot summer months to prevent the body from overheating.
Practice Sitali Pranayam:
- Close the eyes and focus them at the point between the eyebrows.
- Curl the tongue into a U shape, like a taco being fed into your mouth (pictured, above). If you cannot curl the tongue, simply stick it out.
- Inhale deeply through the curled tongue.
- Exhale fully through the nose.
- Continue breathing this way for three minutes.
Allow the stillness to settle inside of you. If the tongue tastes bitter at first, it is simply a sign of detoxification and will pass.
2) To give you energy – Breath of Fire: this is an energizing and detoxifying breath used commonly in Kundalini Yoga. Breath of Fire’s benefits include: strengthening and balancing the nervous system to resist the negative effects of stress, expanding lung capacity and increasing vitality, reducing addictive impulses for smoking, drugs and junk food, and boosting the immune system. It is a rapid, rhythmic breath through the nose that is powered by the navel center. Children under 13 years of age, pregnant women or women on the first three days of their menstrual cycle should not do Breath of Fire. Anyone with chronic or serious medical problems or health concerns should speak with a teacher and consult their medical doctor before beginning this breath.
Practice Breath of Fire:
- Place one hand on your belly as you close your eyes and focus them at the point between the eyebrows.
- Open your mouth and begin panting like a tired dog, noticing how your belly contracts as you exhale and expands as you inhale.
- Once aware of the coordination between your breath and your navel close your mouth and continue that rhythmic breath through just your nostrils.
- Continue the breath and if any parts of your body feel tense, consciously relax them.
- Continue this breath for one minute and as you practice increase to three minutes.
You may feel dizzy or lightheaded at first as your body is taking in more oxygen than it is used to and resetting your nerves. If you do, pause and come back to the breath when you are ready. The point is not to hyperventilate but to bring balance to the body with an even inhale and exhale.
Test out these practices in your life. By simply tuning into your breathing at any given moment, you will increase awareness of your current state and empower yourself by changing the way your body feels. Once you’ve changed your breath and physical body, changes in your mental state are automatic…and that is worth one big exclamation of Wahe Guru!