Whether you’re one to wake up and write first thing in the morning, you find a way to cram it in the middle of your busy day, or you settle in right before bed with a journal by lamplight, it can be hard for the mind to focus when you want it to.
It’s that time of day when you finally allow the mind to get quiet so you can hear your own thoughts that the stressors and anxieties come creeping in.
Suddenly, instead of thinking about your lovely writing project, you’re preoccupied with the assignment due at work by the end of the week, or the dessert you have to make for the dinner party tomorrow night, or the fifteen items left on your to-do list that you were sure you could get done by today, darn it!
No matter how precise we are with our writing schedules, our minds have a schedule of their own.
They nitpick and worry and repeat that annoying commercial jingle for days after you hear it.
So what can we do when we’re ready to hunker down at the café for the afternoon with our laptops, but we can’t get that knot out of our chest or our jaws to unclench?
That’s right, it’s as simple as breathing.
With the prevalence of yoga and meditation in western society, more and more people are turning to the fourth limb of yoga, pranayama, as a means of relieving stress and anxiety brought on by modern day living.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word broken down as prana (breath or life force) and ayama (restraint or control). Yogis believe that directing the breath can help one control the universal life force that exists within and around us and therefore become one step closer to enlightenment.
Pranayama is the flow of energy, the link between the body and the mind as well as between the individual and the world. When we don’t pay attention to the breath, that energy gets stuck.
On a basic level, we receive less nourishing oxygen and hold onto more toxic carbon dioxide. But on a cosmic level, we become out of sync with our own beings and the world around us.
In essence, we exist separately from the present moment.
We get caught in that “fight or flight” mode, where we merely cope rather than thrive.
Your writing deserves better.
You deserve better!
Many studies have shown the health benefits that deep breathing can have on the nervous system such as reducing cortisol levels and improving focus.
So the next time you sit down to write and that stress just won’t loosen its hold on you, try one of these breathing techniques to hone that writing headspace*:
1. Nadi Shodana– The Sweet Breath or Alternate Nostril Breathing
Nadi means channel and refers to the energy channels through which prana flows while shodana means cleansing. This breath has been shown to calm the mind and balance the three main nadis that run through the body by cleansing the channels.
-Curl your index and middle fingers of your right hand. Bring your pinky and ring fingers to your left nostril and thumb to the right nostril.
-Press the right nostril gently with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril.
-Press the left nostril gently with pinky and ring finger and release the thumb on the right nostril.
-Exhale out the right nostril.
-Inhale through the right nostril.
-Plug the right nostril with the thumb again and release the pinky and ring finger on left nostril.
-Exhale out the left nostril.
-Inhale through the left nostril and repeat the entire round at least five more times.
Tip: always plug the nostril after the inhale.
2. Dirga Swasam Pranayama– Three-Part Breath or Wave Breath
Dirga means slow, long, deep, or complete and swasam is another word for breath. The three parts of this breath are the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest, where you will breathe in respectively. This breath increases oxygen flow to the body and therefore calms the nervous system.
-Inhale deeply into the belly
-Continue the inhale into the rib cage, allowing it to expand in all directions
-Finally, extend the inhale into the lungs and chest.
-When you can no longer inhale, slowly release the exhale starting with the chest, then the rib cage, and finally the belly.
-Repeat at least five times.
Tip: as you practice this breath, imagine a wave, first swelling with the inhale, and then gently crashing with the exhale.
3. Ujjayi Pranayama– Victorious Breath or Ocean Sounding Breath
Ujjayi translates as victorious. This breath is common in yoga asana classes since it helps to build heat in the body, but it does make the practitioner sound like Darth Vader (hence “ocean sounding breath”). Despite its strange sound, ujjayi breath is great for concentration and calming the mind. And as an added bonus, it can warm you up on colder days!
-Begin with the mouth open.
-Inhale slowly and deeply.
-Make the “ha” sound, the way you would fog a mirror. That place in the back on the throat is where you’ll breathe from.
-Now close the mouth.
-Relaxing the nostrils, inhale again into the base of the throat.
-Imagining the “ha” sound, exhale at the base of the throat.
-Repeat at least five times, inhaling and exhaling for even counts.
Tip: If you’re having trouble breathing from the base of the throat, keep the mouth open as you practice this breath. You will still notice the heat building and receive the benefits.
There are many more breathing techniques you can try, but hopefully these three give you a jump-start in accessing the writing headspace. I’d love to hear which techniques resonate most with you in the comments below!
*always consult your healthcare provider before attempting new exercises and breathing techniques.