Sama Vritti Pranayama: The Practice of Ratio Breath.
The breath can act as a bridge between the body and the mind. It is a way to feel into the language of the body on any given day, or in any particular moment. If we allow it, the breath can teach us a lot. It is probably fair to say we could all stop to observe the breath a little more in our day to day lives. As we rush from one place to the next, or fight to meet that deadline our breathing can become shallow and concentrated in the upper chest. At birth humans are abdominal (or diaphragmatic) breathers but as we grow and develop, environmental factors and external stressors begin to impact the way we breath. This causes many adults to become shallow chest breathers, barely using the lower third of the lungs. We have so much to gain from utilising the powerful effects of conscious breathing, and in this post I will be sharing a little about Sama Vritti Pranayama or Ratio Breath. You can scroll down to find the practical exercise or read on to learn a little more about the breath and the practice. You can also listen along to a guided audio here.
"A successful tree pose probably won't change your life. Learning how to keep your breath easy, long, and deep no matter what the circumstance? That absolutely will." - Tara Stiles
Breathing is life. It is one of our most vital functions and pranayama promotes the practice of more effective and conscious breathing. Broken down the word Pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words (the ancient language of India). 'Prana' meaning life force, and 'Ayama' meaning to extend. Broadly, when placed together pranayama means to control the flow of the life force by practicing exercises that intentionally alter the speed, rhythm, and space of the breath. Each pranayama technique can help us to achieve differing outcomes. Sometimes just watching and expanding your breath for several minutes can have a surprisingly positive influence on your energy levels or mood but you can multiply this effect significantly by using focused pranayama.
To begin utilising breath work techniques effectively, it is beneficial to get to know your habitual breathing pattern. Your current breath ratio is important because it can reveal something about the state of your body, mind and consciousness. There will undoubtedly be some fluctuation and inconsistency but ultimately there are 3 main ratios;
• Inhale is longer than the exhale
• Exhale is longer than the inhale
• Inhale and Exhale are more or less equal
You can try this now by lying or sitting comfortably in stillness. Allow yourself a few moments to settle into your position. Take a few natural breaths before turning your awareness to your inhale. Begin to count the length of your inhale over approximately 5 or 6 cycles of breath. Try to be consistent with the pace of your counting. Don't worry about small inconsistencies, just write down the number you got most frequently when counting the length of your inhale.
Now turn your attention to your exhale. Again, count the length of your exhale over 5 or 6 cycles of breath and write down the number. Compare this to the number on your inhale, and this is your current breath ratio.
During prolonged inhalation the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated. This is the branch of the autonomic nervous system that creates the 'fight or flight response'. Prolonged exhalation is understood to activate the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, a complex biological mechanism that helps to calm and soothe. In ratio breath we aim to equalise the lengths of both the inhale and exhale. This can have a neutralising effect on the two branches of the autonomic nervous system bringing about balance and an overall sense of calm.
Once you start to become more familiar with the patterns of your breath you can begin to manipulate the breath for a desired effect. To help calm anxious thoughts, for example, you can purposely lengthen your exhalations. Alternatively, to help alleviate lethargy and fatigue or to stimulate energy, you can lengthen your inhalations. To lift yourself or find emotional balance, it may be most effective to equalise the lengths of your inhalations and exhalations. This is what we will be focusing on in the next part of this post.
Before you begin: Never overdo it in any breathing exercise. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, relax, and go back to your normal, everyday breath. Never force your breath to do anything it doesn't want to do. Your breath holds an innate intelligence and in breath work we are aiming to tap into this. We aim to listen and learn to trust the messages of the body.
Find a comfortable seated posture.
Close your eyes and begin to notice your breath. Not feeling like you have to change or force anything at this point. Just noticing. Give yourself at least 5 breaths to arrive.
Begin to slowly count to 4 as you inhale. Take a moment to to pause at the top of your inhale. Before exhaling and again counting to 4 as you. Again, take a short moment here to feel the bottom of the exhale as the lungs are empty. Then, inhale to the count of 4, pause and exhale to the count of 4, pause. Repeat this pattern.
As the breath deepens you may want to try adjusting the number you are counting to for fuller breaths. Only work with what feels good for you.
Continue with this patterns for at least 10 breaths or several minutes.
When you feel ready, allow the practice to dissolve and return to a natural breath.Take a moment to notice the effects of your conscious breathing.