Search
  • Lori Pirri

Brush Your Way to Breathing

Well, that’s not exactly a catchy phrase like “Become happy, strong & healthy with our online courses, workshops, travels & app”, or “A detox app for every level of your being...” but the common theme is breath. The past two weeks I’ve had both coworkers and friends recommend one specific “breathwork guru” which inspired this month’s post. I’m not inspired or persuaded by anyone who calls themselves a guru, or anyone who thinks they’ve invented “breathwork”. I think breathing is magical and glorious and we can build awareness around how we breathe but it’s also important to confirm the physicality of breath. If you fall unconscious right this second you will continue to breathe, promise. If you jump into the water I bet you’ll hold your breath. If you get chased by a dog as soon as you walk outside I bet you’ll both increase your breathing. Is that breathwork? Of course I’m being slightly facetious the purpose of which is to draw your attention away from the immensely entertaining “guru” claims and toward the immensely healthful practice of breathing with intention.


When my sister and I were young we used to do what I call multitask toothbrushing. Maybe we still do. Stay with me. This is about breath. Brush our teeth and fix our hair and make-up, or fight over the mirror and radio station. When I began practicing yoga in earnest my multitask toothbrushing became an exercise in alignment. My teacher had taught me that my shoulder blades could really move, that I had a hip bowl, that my legs were lazy. Woah! I couldn’t brush my teeth without aligning and realigning in the mirror. Now as I brush my teeth, I probably still align, and do a few house tasks but I most often pay attention to my breath. It’s at least twice a day when I get to be still and focused. Meditative toothbrushing? Perhaps not but at least I become centered, and aware of the art of breathing.


Yoga has been inviting practitioners to breathe with intention for thousands of years. To honor the breath as a life force that flows with its own power and to accept that we are being breathed by our breath not the other way around. That prana as B.K.S. Iyengar says “...in the body of the individual is part of the cosmic breath of the Universal Spirit.”, and that breathing with intention means “An attempt is made to harmonise the individual breath with the cosmic breath through the practice of pranayama.”. It’s far more inspiring for me to practice the art of breathing to merge with my greater Self and spirit then it is to practice breath control to risk frostbite for a Tweet (yes, pause to Google that so you can come back and focus) as some yoga ascetics and extreme feat seekers do. There are many different approaches to Pranayama, also known as rhythmic control of the breath, and the practice, from personal experience, is difficult but offers many benefits. Just becoming aware of the rhythms and fluctuations of your breath is amazing, and then continuing your practice to move closer to controlling your mental fluctuations. Breath regulation not as a game with winners and losers but regulation as part of the amazing circle of breathing, each inhale completing and turning into an exhale as gentle as a breeze, softening your mind and opening your heart. I like the description provided by Kariba Ekken, a 17th century mystic who suggests pranayama practice to build peace within by being present to the rhythms of our breath at all times so you build serenity in all your interactions. “If you would foster a calm spirit, first regulate your breathing; for when that is under control, the heart will be at peace; but when breathing is spasmodic, then it will be troubled. Therefore, before attempting anything, first regulate your breathing on which your temper will be softened, your spirit calmed.” I’m inspired by this simple, though not easy, request to pay attention to how we breathe and practice regulation for the greater benefit of ourselves and others. If you are a yoga practitioner this is not new information. If you’ve had someone say to you, or you have said to someone else “calm down” this is not new information. What may be new is the How To. How do you calm down? How do you regulate your breath? I will share two practices with you, no need to install an app or sign up for a workshop. Try them. Play with them. Remember you are not going to win or lose, you are just breathing with intention. You are joining your breath to the circle of cosmic breathing. You’ll notice a calmness, a centeredness, and maybe you’ll open your heart to the magical world of intentional breathing.


Breath Practices


In these practices you are becoming aware of how your breath moves. Do not try to force your breath. Instead, relax and open. Only move through the stages as you feel comfortable. Remember, there is no winning or losing just joining.


Get comfortable

  • Be sure you are in a warm, safe, quiet space

  • Lie on the ground with a support under your head such as a folded blanket. You can also elevate your upper body if that feels better using 2 blankets. You'll be making the capital letter "T" with the blankets. Fold the first blanket into thirds and place vertically on the ground to support your spine. Fold the second blanket in thirds and place on top of the first blanket horizontally to support your head.

  • Place your arms by your side with your palms face up

  • Notice the outline and weight of your body on the ground, and fully release to gravity


Three-Part Breath There are three parts which we will breathe into; abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. In this practice notice how your breath moves into these areas as you breathe. Do not try to force your breath into these areas but relax and open, or release the practice.

  • Begin to notice the rhythm and 3 qualities of your breath. The length of your inhales & exhales, the texture of your breath movement, and the rest breath - the pauses at the beginnings and ends of the inhales and exhales.

  • For the first 3 cycles of breath inhale & exhale deeply into your belly. Continue to notice the 3 qualities of your breath.

  • For the next 3 cycles inhale & exhale with a focus on your diaphragm. Breathe width into your diaphragm on your inhale and come back to center on your exhale. Continue to notice the 3 qualities of your breath.

  • For the last 3 cycles inhale & exhale with a focus on your chest. Breathe width into your ribcage and heart center on your inhale and come back to center on your exhale. Continue to notice the 3 qualities of your breath.

  • Release. Return to normal breath

Do this breath practice 3 times at most if you are new. Do NOT overdue.

Square Breathing

We are bringing a bit of regulation into our breathing as we slowly and intentionally envision creating a square with our breath. In this practice, notice if you feel any tightness or gripping in your heart center or shoulders and release. Do not try to force your breath but relax and open, or release the practice.

  • Begin to notice the rhythm of your breath. The length of your inhales & exhales, the texture of your breath movement, and the rest breath - the pauses at the beginnings and ends of the inhales and exhales.

  • Count the length of your inhale

  • Notice the rest/pause at the top

  • Count the length of your exhale

  • Notice the rest/pause at the bottom

  • Inhale to a slow count of four (4)

  • Pause, and notice the rest/pause at the top

  • Exhale to a slow count of four (4)

  • Pause, and notice the rest/pause at the top

Going Further

  • Inhale to a slow count of four (4)

  • Pause, hold for a count of four (4)

  • Exhale to a slow count of four (4)

  • Pause, hold for a count of four (4)

  • Release. Return to normal breath

Do this breath practice 3 times at most if you are new. Do NOT overdue.


If you are curious about Pranayama and would like to further explore breathing with intention I recommend “The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama” by Richard Rosen.


If none of these practices appeal to you, or you just know you're not going to make the time for a formal breath practice then I encourage you to do some multitask toothbrushing. You are long past the need to watch yourself brush your teeth so close your eyes, brush your teeth, notice and honor your breath.




18 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All