Have you heard of pranayama? This centuries-old practice can be a great help to you on your recovery journey. It’s so simple, and you can do it almost anywhere, at any time. The tools that you need to participate are things you have with you always, and immediately upon practice, you will feel relaxed, grounded, energized, powerful, or whatever way you choose to pursue. It reduces stress and will help you sleep better, too!
What is it, you ask? It’s breathing! Pranayama is a Sanskirt word that, simply stated, means breath control, or breath work. Actively controlling your breath can do great things for you physically, mentally, and emotionally – all areas which require love, attention, and tenderness during the addiction recovery process. The concept of pranayama has origins in ancient India and it is a yogic practice. In Sanskrit, prana means “life force” and ayama means “to extend or draw out” (as in extension of the life force). Through various techniques designed to intentionally alter the breath to produce specific internal results, pranayama helps practitioners to become more aware of their bodies and aids in the construction and development of a strong mind/body connection.
It makes sense. Our breathing is directly connected to our thoughts and emotions. When we are at peace, we naturally breathe slowly and deeply. When we are stressed or in fear, our breath rate speeds up quickly, or we hold our breath – whether we notice it or not. It makes sense then, that it works the other way, too. If we find that we are breathing quickly and shallowly, and adjust our breathing to a slower and deeper pace, then we will quickly begin to feel calmer. Through practices like these, paying attention to our breathing consistently can help promote health and vitality in our lives. Breathing consciously can help us reach balance, and in turn, can help us live to our fullest potential every day.
Benefits of a Pranayama Practice
There are many benefits to incorporating pranayama into your life. A daily breathing practice can be paired with a yoga or meditation practice, or it can be practiced independently. Consistency is certainly helpful, but even if you only practice pranayama occasionally, you can reap many benefits. You can schedule a time each day to practice, or, you can use it as a tool to help you at times of need. Depending on what benefits you seek, your practice may be very different from another practitioner’s.
- Pranayama can help you to level out your emotions. As mentioned in the example above, if you are feeling stressed, nervous, or fearful, level out your emotions by taking deep breaths. If you are tired, quicker breathing can help to energize you.
- It can help improve your concentration. As in meditation, focusing on the breath in pranayama, and working to control it through various methods, can really help you to build the kind of deep focus that is often very helpful in recovery.
- Breath work can help to alleviate cravings. In early recovery, intense cravings usually come with the territory. However, you also know that in time, they pass. During the short period in between, the feelings of desire can be nearly unbearable. That’s where pranayama comes in. If you take deep breaths and focus on your breathing, after a few short minutes, you will be over the hump and your cravings will subside!
- A breathing practice can help lower blood pressure. Believe it or not, a regular breathing practice has been shown to help subjects lower their blood pressure. High blood pressure can be a very dangerous condition, and in many cases, it is exacerbated by stress. Since pranayama can be used to slow breathing, and slower breathing reduces stress, a regular breathing practice can help to lower hypertension over time.
- Pranayama can help alleviate chronic pain. A study published in Oxford Academic found that patients with chronic pain that were introduced to a breathing practice found that they were more easily able to control and deal with intense pain levels when practicing deep breathing techniques. This information can be quite helpful to individuals in recovery who have chosen to break free from their painkiller or opioid addictions but who still experience pain.
- Breath work promotes mindfulness. Being mindful of yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, and the world around is vital to remaining successful on your recovery journey. Pranayama can quickly help you to practice mindfulness more successfully both during practice, and between practices as well.
Types of Breath Work
Simply breathing deeply while sitting quietly with your eyes closed can have benefits on its own. However, if you choose to delve more deeply into pranayama practice, you will fine that the original ancient Indian practices are quite varied and extremely numerous. Just a few true pranayama practices include:
- Alternate Nostril Breathing – Breathe in through the left nostril, then close it with your fingers, breath out through the right, then in through the right, close that nostril, breathe out through the left, and repeat. This sort of breathing can be helpful in helping you feel more grounded, and can aid in alleviating anxiety and stress and promoting balance.
- Abdominal Breathing (Dirga Breath). Dirga breath is really just breathing deeply in and out, but with a focus on all four parts of the breath – the inhale, a pause, the exhale, and another pause. First, fill your abdomen with breath, then your lungs, and finally your upper chest. When exhaling, do it in reveres. This type of breathing is very calming and helps to deliver a great deal oxygen to the heart.
- Lion’s Breath – This type of breathing is fun and exciting and helps with circulation and relaxation. First, take a very deep inhale, then exhale loudly through your mouth and stick out your tongue. Do this a few times, then return to normal breathing and close your eyes and feel the effects.
- Ujjayi Breath – Also known as the ocean sounding breath or the “Darth Vader” breath, ujjayi can be extremely relaxing, and can be done quietly anywhere, even in public. Many people participate in this type of breathing when practicing yoga. It is very helpful for mindfulness and also can help alleviate insomnia.
- Kapalabahiti (Fire Breath) – This breath is energizing and is a great tool for revitalization when you are feeling sluggish. First, take a long, slow inhale, then exhale through many quick, powerful, short breaths from the lower belly. This can also be helpful in fighting frustration and anger. Start practicing just a minute or two at first, then work your way up to longer periods.
All of these breathing practices can be helpful, but if you simply need to take a break and do some deep breathing, there are numerous techniques that can help you with that, too. Counting breaths in a 4-7-8 pattern (count four as you breathe in, seven as you hold it, and eight as you breathe out) has been found to be helpful for many, especially when trying to fall asleep. Or, inhale for a count of seven, and out for a count of nine. Try different patterns and see what works best for you.
Or, you could try box breathing. Picture a box in the air in front of you. Breathe in and right for four counts, hold and down for four, out and left for four, and hold and up for four. Triangle breathing can work in a similar way: inhale as you go up, exhale as you go down the other side, then hold your breath as you go across the bottom. These visualizations will help you to control your breath and keep it at a steady and regular pace.
Pranayama, or breath work, can be a powerful practice that can help you in many ways. Although everyone breathes, few have truly realized the benefits of a regular or even occasional breathing practice. It’s easy to begin, it’s always available to you, and it can energize you, calm you, relax you, de-stress you, focus you, and more. Try starting today – right now! You will be amazed at the results!
At Clear Sky Recovery, we incorporate breath work into our treatment program for individuals who are interested in trying it. We will be happy to teach you these methods and practices at our facility in Cancun, Mexico, after your ibogaine treatment experience with us. Breath work is something you can carry with you for the rest of your life, and we realize its value as a part of a individualized recovery program. If you would like to hear more about Clear Sky Recovery and the services we offer, please contact us today!
Dr. Sola is one of the world’s leading experts in medically-based ibogaine treatment; he has more clinical experience with safe and effective ibogaine administration than any other M.D. in the world today.