Pranayama and Chest Openers to Help Beat the Winter Blues
What can we do to help keep our energy flow open and energised?
Pranayama and chest opening yoga poses are good for this time of year, as they help to clear the lungs of toxins and stagnant energy and make way for a lighter and more grounded you as well as having a positive effect on the mind. Autumn in Chinese medicine is governed by the lungs and large intestine, which symbolise a time of clearing and letting go. In yoga Pranayama, being a breathing technique helps to clear and detoxify the lungs and consequently body and mind and chest openers aid the letting-go process by opening up the heart space that can be restricted emotionally or physically.
Chest opening postures
Chest opening yoga poses are well known to help beat the winter blues, shift any stagnant energy in the lungs and release emotions that you may have been storing up for some time. If you think about it, these chest opening postures also create space in the front of chest, along the sternum bone, expanding the rib cage, pressing the shoulders back, lifting the head to allow space in the throat, expanding the lungs, creating a beautiful arch in the thoracic spine (mid back). Ah, just describing this makes me want to stretch, open up and let go! Try it, just stop what you are doing and raise your arms above your head, rotate them back and down, clasping the hands together behind your back. Squeeze the shoulders together and take them back and down away from your ears, opening up the chest and holding them there. Drop your head back with control to create space in the throat area… and inhale deeply through the nose and exhale slowly through the nose…
…How do you feel? Better already I bet! Try it a few times to see how you feel. BKS Iyengar is quoted saying this about chest opening poses “Keep your armpits open and you won’t get depressed” Imagine everyday postures that people generally hold themselves in; shoulders rolled forwards, shoulders hunched, head drooping, gaze to the floor. Now roll the shoulders back, lift the head, bring the shoulders back and down and Viola! Life energy, positivity and strength return in 3 simple movements!
Combining these chest opening exercise with pranayama (taking the deep breaths through the nose) will instantly cleanse, release and energise. There are many pranayamas or breathing techniques but one of my favourites and one of the most simple is anuloma viloma. It is alternate nostril breathing and doing this for 5 minutes a day helps to calm the mind, bring fresh oxygenated blood to the brain and cleanse body and mind.
Anuloma Viloma (alternate nostril breathing)
The most simple way of beginning this breath work is by sitting in a comfortable seated position. Placing your hands on your knees, palms turned up, place the left fingers in chin mudra (thumb and index finger touching tips) and the right fingers in Vishnu mudra (tuck the middle and index finger into the palm of the hand and keep straight the ring and little finger and thumb). Lifting the right fingers to the nose, place the ring finger to the bony bit at the top of the nostril and press slightly, so that you can feel the restriction of air. Release and place your thumb at the same place on the opposite nostril.
Leaving the fingers lightly touching here, close your eyes, slightly tuck the chin in, roll the shoulders back and down away from your head, keeping them and your whole body relaxed, including your face muscles, head and neck and lift the elbow away from the body slightly. This helps to create space in the chest. You are ready to begin.
Firstly, exhale all the air out through both nostrils, then blocking the left nostril with the ring and little finger, inhale counting to 4 through the right nostril. After the count of 4, block the right nostril and release the left, exhaling for the count of 4. Continue to do this for about 5 minutes. You may feel that you can increase the count so do so to 5 or 6. If, however, you feel you are struggling with the breath, go back down again to a number here you have ease and feel relaxed in the posture otherwise it is counter productive. Once you have done 5 minutes, staying still, release the hand from the nose and place in chin mudra on the other knee, allow your breath to return to normal and sit for a couple of minutes with your eyes closed, observing, without judgement, how you are feeling. The mind will feel calm, clear and light.