I’m at the grocery store in my three day old sweats, caked in foodstuffs, kid snot, and general filth. My toddler, Ray, drops his granola bar. I wait for the lady oogling him to move on so that I can pick it up off the floor and hand it back to him, COVID or no COVID. Clearly this woman has no memory of her own children’s toddler years. “It goes so fast.” Not fast enough, lady. In the checkout line, I look up from the Megan Markle headlines to see Ray gnawing my purse handle to the quick. I say to him “Really?” and he hangs his head in shame. Nice, mama. Commence the backpedal. Brené Brown would have my head.
It was not a particularly prana-rich day for me. My life force was weak and cranky. There is a lot I could have done to remedy that (if only I had the time, sigh).
Prana (not the clothing company, although I did recently purchase a very cute skirt there) is another one of those key Ayurvedic concepts. It means breath, as we all may know, but more than that it means “vital force”, or life energy. The syllable “pra” means the emerging of impulse, in other words the impetus, and “na” means movement. So prana is the origin of an action as well as the action itself. I think. It is the source of life and how we live it. Prana is the breath of everything: the universe, our souls .
Prana is the flow of life. Sometimes it seethes, sometimes it gently flows; it never stagnates.
Prana helps us balance our doshas
Prana is a sub-dosha of vata; some argue that it’s the most important of all the sub-doshas. Each dosha – vata, pitta, and kapha – have five sub-doshas, for a total of fifteen. Prana is what gets everything – all the sub-doshas – moving. Working with prana can help us balance all of those sub-doshas, which balances the three main doshas, which makes us happy, healthy, and whole.
When prana is low, vata dominant people will tend toward anxiety, pitta people will feel anger and kapha types will go toward depression.
The first layer of our aura is also prana. This subtle flow of energy, when balanced, creates wonderful things for us. Vedic texts talk about prana as the energy of spiritual light.
Prana is uplifting energy, and we all seek it. It is what makes us feel alive.
- Wear green! Green enhances our vibration – it’s the color of plants, which have some serious life force. I have a green shirt that gets compliments every time I wear it. Yesterday, a lady in the bathroom told me she loved it and she was still talking about it to me as I was in the stall peeing!
- Get out into some green space. Enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. We have an extra baby monitor and we put it outside so that we have the birds chirping in our house at all times. So fun.
- Spend time near a body of water. Not always possible, but always soothing. Water enhances prana with it’s fluidity and movement. It’s dynamic and gives us rest and energy at the same time. We are blessed with a family vacation place on Lake Michigan. I always bring books and music onto the porch with me, but end up just sitting and staring at the waves. Often, it provides an emotional release and my husband, Derek, will find me out there crying and smiling.
- Yoga. Notice your breath while practicing; make it the focus. Syncing breath with movement is what yoga is all about. It will turbocharge (deepen) your practice.
- Hang out with positive people. Before I met my Derek, I kept dating people and then complaining “He’s just not silly at all.” Derek and I laugh all the time. He doesn’t engage in petty gossip and fun is his number one priority. If being around someone leaves you with an emotional hangover, set boundaries.
- Meditation – calm that busy mind
- Massage from a calm, positive person
- Eat well – fresh, organic, close to the source
- Practice pranayama (means: to control the breath) – breath work. The practice of pranayama involves three parts: inhalation, retention, and exhalation. On the inhale, we receive the universal life force (puraka). Retention is a pause: be still and appreciate (kumbhaka). Universal energy gets distributed in the body as we pause. Exhalation releases with the breath our thoughts and emotions (rechaka). We exhale and get rid of old patterns and toxic thoughts. It’s where we can let go. Once the lungs are empty, we can pause again (kumbhaka) to surrender. This helps us feel at one with All That Is. In this way, breathing is an art. With intentional breathing, we become purified.
To me, music is prana. Dancing happens a lot in our house.
Have you ever noticed that breath changes with different emotions? When we are scared we stop breathing and when we laugh we are breathing really deeply – taking cleansing breaths.
A Few Pranayama Practices
There are many breathing practices to be found. Alternate nostril breathing is always a go-to. It balances the brain hemispheres and calms the monkey mind. Breath of fire is another indispensable one (especially for vatas and kaphas), it purifies the blood and is very energizing. All it is is a rapid inhale and exhale through the nose, like sniffing. Doing it for at least three minutes is ideal. Dog breathe is similar, but stick your tongue out as far as it can go and start to pant rapidly. Pant fast and deeply, pump your stomach, and just go for it!
A very simple breathing exercise is to concentrate on the exhalation. Inhale deeply through the nose, and then exhale every last spec of air out through the nose. Pause. Begin again. The great yoga teacher Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa says that this practice will allow us to experience what it means to give everything away. She says that it is only when we are willing to give away every last particle of breath that we can truly receive.
Sitali Pranayam – known as cooling breath, it has great regenerative powers and gets rid of negativity. It is strengthening and cleansing. Try this one when you are really mad, it helps dissipate anger (this one is great for pittas). The ancient yogis said that doing this breath 52 times daily – 26 times in the morning and 26 times at night – will extend your lifespan. Worth a bloody try!
1. Stick out your tongue and curl it into a tube, if you can. Then think of using it like a straw. The eyes are closed and looking up and in toward the third eye point (in between the eyebrows). If you can’t curl your tongue, then open your lips, close the teeth, and put the tongue up against them.
2. Breathe through your mouth, using the “straw” of your tongue to draw in the breath. Make the breath long, powerful, and deep.
3. Exhale completely through the nose. Keep going.
Pranayama for Gratitude and Compassion – inhale through the nose, exhale completely through the mouth, inhale through the mouth, exhale completely through the nose.
Breath practice is portable, free, simple, and profound.
The great thing is that we can, and of course, do, breathe anywhere and everywhere. While doing breathe of fire in line at the post office might garner a few stares, just deep inhales, exhales, and pauses will leave no one the wiser. Ideally, pranayama is done with the eyes closed, but, context. Don’t close your eyes while driving or clipping someone’s nails. If this is the time that breath work can be squeezed into a busy day, do it, eyes open.
After the grocery store debacle, I realized that my little child had sensed that I was having a tough day. After finishing the tainted granola bar, he pulled me in for hugs, patting my back and face. He breathed with me and was calm for me. He didn’t protest one bit when I took the Snickers bar out of his hands to put it back on it’s wicked little shelf. Those kids. The life force is strong in them. Teachers they are.