First things first, I too was raised by wolves. I’ll tell you all about it sometime soon, but among the many cool-but-strange things my mother did when I was a kid was practice breath of fire.
For those of you not steeped in yoga culture, breath of fire is a sequence of quick, guttural (because you used your abdomen) exhales through the nose. It sounds like a dog panting in the middle of summer, kinda fast and furious. But it’s actually very controlled. (Note to mothers: For a small child it can appear a little bit scary. You might want to explain to the kids that mommy is not hyperventilating.)
Anyways, breath of fire is a great way to energize the body, clear out toxins, clear the mind, or in a moment of rage or frustration especially—calm the eff down. Siobhan and I, when we were younger and had jerkier bosses, each had a secret place at our offices where we would go to do this.
Alas, it is still a part of my at-home yoga practice. But these days, I’ve been more focused on another type of breathing: alternate nostril breathing. This is a much slower practice that involves, as the name implies, inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other, then inhaling through that one—retaining the breath in between—and exhaling through the other. There’s a nifty hand position explained in this video (though she doesn’t demo the retention). The slower you can get it, the more calming it feels. It depends on the day, but I usually breath in on a 4-second count, retain for 12, and exhale for 8 or so.
It is a very powerful practice, and I believe its effects are both immediate and lasting throughout the day. As I told you guys a few weeks ago, I’ve been experiencing signs of imbalance lately that I believe are related to years of sustained stress. In my quest to set my body and mind straight, I came across an incredible book called Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life. Its author Dr. Claudia Welch, is an Ayurvedic doctor and practitioner of Chinese Medicine. She’s also a great writer.
This book has changed my life, and you’ll be hearing more about it. I aspoke to Dr. Welch on the phone for a long time this weekend, and will be featuring an interview with her on the site soon.
It was her writings that reminded me just how effective simple alternate nostril breathing can be on health. In the book it’s one of her key prescriptions for women experiencing any kind of hormonal-slash-life imbalance, and since I’ve been doing it daily I’ve noticed real changes.
Alternate nostril breathing seems to instantly quiet the monkey brain, and lull me into a more meditative state. It’s said to balance the male and female forces in the body, as well as the left and right brain. On a less esoteric note: It also clears my sinuses and helps me breathe better too. :) Do you have a breathing practice?
How nice are you to you?
According to this New York Times article, a growing new area of research is looking at the relationship between self-compassion and health. While it turns out people who berate themselves are often very supportive of others, recent studies seem to indicate that they may not be doing themselves any favors in the process. From the article:
The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic. Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.
Apparently it’s not all about discipline and tough love (sorry Tiger Mom!). But I’m seeing a few red flags here too. For starters, because part of the research focuses on weight, I’m wary of this getting turned into something gimmicky: The Self Compassion Diet! Love yourself, lose weight! And for seconds, it feels reductive to say that the cause of a problem is the lack of self-compassion, when that may be the outcome of the problem. Know what I mean?
That said, we strongly encourage self-compassion! We try to practice it—though it’s not always easy. For some reason—an error in human programming?—it’s much easier to pick at our own mistakes (while forgiving those of others), regret dumb things we’ve said (or eaten), and beat ourselves up for (insert yours here: not exercising enough, not working hard enough, not making enough money, and on and on).
Here’s an idea: Let’s all take a moment to remember that we’re all in the same boat, and that we all make mistakes, and that nobody’s perfect, and make a little extra effort today (and tomorrow and the next) to show ourselves some kindness. Call me a sap, but I think this is really important.
Who’s in for a little exercise self-compassion?