Are you feeling the post-holiday blues? Or post-holiday frazzle? Yoga can help.

To begin, we can look to the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms on yoga, written over 2000 years ago by the Indian sage Patanjali. The second Yoga Sutra yoga states, “Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah”, meaning yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind.  So you may be thinking, “What does that mean and how the heck does that help me feel better?!”  It means yoga can help calm the chatter in the mind; the chatter that might be moving a million miles a minute or telling you things are hopeless and never going to get better. 

So how does yoga help calm the mind?  Another important part of the Yoga Sutras is the Eight-Limb Path of Yoga.  One of these limbs is asana, physical postures, which is often the sole thing we think of when we think of yoga in the US.  However, the Eight-Limb Path demonstrates many different aspects of yoga, including guidelines for living our life, breathing techniques, and meditation.  So calming the mind through yoga doesn’t necessarily mean putting your foot behind your head (although maybe for you that helps!).  It can be as simple as a few deep breaths or a short meditation. Today we’re going to focus on a pranayama, a breathing technique.

Pranayama, the Fourth Limb of the Eight-Limb Path, helps us regulate the flow of energy or prana, through the body.  The breath helps open energy channels so the prana can flow more freely, alleviating tension in the physical body, as well as emotional tension, such as depression and anxiety. Some pranayama is more energizing, some is more calming. Below is a description and video of “Breath of Joy”, one of my favorite stress- relieving and mood-uplifting pranayamas.  If you find this helpful, consider joining me for an eight-week Anxiety & Depression Support Group at Inner Door Center®.  In the group we will utilize techniques such as “Breath of Joy”, as well as elements of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), meditation, yoga and mindfulness to combat depression and anxiety.  Click here for more information and to register.

Breath of Joy
“Breath of Joy” is great for releasing worries that may be stuck on repeat in our minds.  It is also a great energizer when you feel lethargic and down.  CAUTION:  If you have very high anxiety, “Breath of Joy” may be too energizing.  Instead try a calming, grounding breath, such as the one mentioned at the end.  Note:  If you feel light-headed or dizzy during this technique, stand still and tall, let your eyes focus on something in front of you that isn’t moving and take deep, long breaths in and out through the nose.

  • Begin by standing tall, feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart, making sure you have room in front of and behind you.
  • Practice taking little sips of air in through the nose, it sounds like exaggerated sniffing.
  • Break your inhale up into 3 parts (3 sniffs).
  • Now add arm movements:  With your first sniff, lift your arms straight in front of you.  With your second, still inhaling, open your arms out to the sides.  With your third sniff, completing your inhale, lift your arms overhead.
  • Now exhale through your mouth with a loud, long “HA” and at the same time bend your knees, lean your torso forward, let your arms come down and then reach back.
  • When you start to inhale again follow the same pattern as above.
  • Let the movements be fluid, not rigid, flowing one into the other.  Think of it as if you’re conducting an orchestra.  With each exhale, imagine your stress or sadness flowing out of you.  With your inhales, imagine fresh energy and positivity coming into you.
  • Do five to ten rounds.  After your final exhale, come up to standing,  let your eyes focus on something in front of you that isn’t moving and take deep, long breaths in and out through the nose.  Notice how you feel.  You might feel more energized and tingly. If you feel too energized or a little anxious, imagine rooting down evenly through both feet, while continuing the deep, long breaths.  Use this grounding visualization to help calm you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Caitlin Brown is a MSW (social work) intern at Inner Door Center® and a Registered Yoga Teacher.  She discovered yoga when going through a particularly stressful period in her life.   She often incorporates different pranayama techniques into her classes and personal practice.  “Breath of Joy” is one of her favorites.  She will be leading an Anxiety & Depression Support Group at Inner Door Center starting Thursday, January 19, 2012.  Click here for more information and to register.

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