Samavritti – The Gift of Breath During Times of Stress

By Marta Swiezynska- Yoga Teacher -

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Samavritti and the secret power of breath

Samavritti has been my friend for a while. She is very practical and always there. The more I share her with others, the more joy she offers. A perfect friend.

In my yoga classes, on retreats and holidays, I feel I have managed to share her with my students rather well over the years.

Known also as Equal Breath pranayama practice, Samavritti is one of those amazing comforting little things that you would probably want to keep in the same box of treasures along with a fluffy blanket, a scented candle and a secret bar of chocolate.

Except you can carry it with you everywhere and there is no danger of misplacing it, running out of it or looking for it frantically at the bottom of a handbag just when you need it the most: in a parking lot, at meetings, before interviews, in a queue, in a traffic, first thing in the morning, last thing at night.

In other words it is always there whenever you feel that life is hectic, when you are under pressure and the to-do list seems to have no end to it.

There are times of the year when a regular schedule (whether it is a Zen-like lifestyle or one when you often nearly leave the house wearing slippers with your office outfit) gets into dissaray. One of those times of the year are end-of-the-year festivities.

Samavritti for times of stress

Alert, alert. Approaching fast now!

In the middle of the season “glittered” with endless shopping, cooking, going out, hosting dinners in and juggling family and everything that the rest of the year’s routine consists of, we often become a perfect amalgamation of Rosie the Riveter and Superwoman. Sadly, it happens at the time of the year when what we actually need is to rest, recover and recuperate.

If taking time to keep composed, focused and clear in the mind space and be still and quiet for a moment is a luxury, then reaching out for Samavritti could be the way forward. 

It may sound like an emergency measure (which it can be and it works very well as such) but like everything that is good for us and helps us to instill some sense of peace and clarity of the mind, it would be great to set it up as a regular practice.

And believe me, when we are talking about the Equal Breath regular practice, we are not promising ourselves to fit it into a daily schedule that simply cannot accommodate anything more. We are being quite realistic because the beauty and practicality of this breathing exercise is the fact that the resources are there, in abundance.

We breathe anyway and opportunities to practise are vast: queues, traffic, those tense moments of waiting before meetings, being on a crowded train, waiting for a delayed airplane. The world is your lobster (!).

Suddenly every situation when you are forced to wait becomes a chance to reach out to your breath and play with Samavritti.

Playing with Samavritti

Why play? Because the guidelines to the practice are literally just to guide you but the practice is what you make it. Each time you practice, you play with numbers and ratios and possibilities of holding the breath in or out or not at all!

The art of pranayama, is sometimes translated as breath control. My feeling is that, indeed, there is something empowering about gaining control over an aspect of life that is by default involuntary, over a force that determines whether something is alive, or not.

Emotions feel like that sometimes too. They might feel like an uncontrollable force that cannot be tamed, but there has been a long tradition in yoga and mindfulness that links breath and emotional state of being and now even modern medical world is investigating it with fascination.

Steady, even breath helps to calm the irritated nervous system. So if it feels like Rosie the Riveter or a regular mum (sometimes it is synonymous) has had a bad day at the office, Samavritti is easy to retrieve from the magical chest of feel-good treasures. It is there, somewhere between your favourite calming tea, a soothing fragrance, a cosy blanket.

Play Time Round One

Samavritti is about making all parts of the breath cycle equal.

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1. Starting gently by closing your eyes and noticing your natural breath, observing the length of inhalation, exhalation and the natural pauses between them. Do this for the first five breaths without changing anything at first.

2. Begin counting as you inhale and exhale, slowing breath down a little and encouraging inhalations and exhalations to become even. Establish a 1:1 breath ratio, which may look like:

• Inhalation: four

• Exhalation: four

Continue for as long as your time, space and circumstances allow.

Play Time Round Two

If you have worked with even inhalation and exhalation for a while, you may want to take this practice further:

3. Working with your comfortable 1:1 breath ratio, begin introducing a brief, but deliberate pause at the top of your inhalation with the lungs filled with air, and at the bottom of exhalation, with your lungs empty.

4. If you are comfortable with holding your breath in and out, begin encouraging both breath retentions to last as long the other parts of your breath.

It may look like:

• Inhalation: four

• Hold: four

• Exhalation: four

• Hold: four

You may want to experiment with changing the number you count to, making sure your inhalation and exhalation remain the same length. On occasions you may feel like holding your breath for a shorter count or you may feel like not holding your breath at all.

Just make sure you are not forcing or straining your breath. This should be the last thing on earth that makes you feel tense. In fact this should be a little escape from rush, race, tension and all that festive “glitter” so do take it easy. You are probably in the car, or on the train, so no one else is counting. It is just you and your breath, so be kind to yourself and play with it.

Once again, continue for as long as your time, space and circumstances allow.

Play Time Round One – Feel free to keep it as an emergency practice but if you can, follow it up with a long relaxing bath, a cup of hot and fragrant tea and your favourite ever feel-good movie.

Even Superwoman needs a break.

Practice note:

• Pregnancy: no breath retentions at all.

• Breath retention after exhalation is not advised with low blood pressure.

• Breath retention after inhalation is not advised with high blood pressure, lung, heart, eye or ear problems.

Marta Swiezynska is a British Wheel of Yoga certified yoga teacher and the founder of The Yoga Project, a platform that specialises in designing yoga practices for individual and corporate clients. Her teaching focuses on offering her students a toolbox of yogic practices that can help to overcome the stresses of modern life. Marta has been fascinated with Eastern philosophies and yoga since her teens and her other interests include psychology and alternative therapies. To read more about Marta click here

Here at natural health star we’ll be taking Marta’s advice and ensuring we make time to rest, recover and recuperate this festive season. Our new health boxes are ideal for helping you maintain balance and optimum health during this busy time. Take a look at the boxes and other natural goodies in our natural health shop

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