Breathing with Cool Breezy
In one of my favorite weekly newsletters titled “Cool Breezy”, my friend Casey Embert, shares her lived experience as she contemplates navigating the world we live in a little bit more mindfully. Each week, Casey not only curates a great playlist, but also a collection some of the best reads found on the internet, and great recipes too (she has much a long overdue cookbook coming out soon). This past week we chatted about breathing and how taking some time out of your day to sit and breathe deliberately can help reclaim a bit of yourself.
Casey Embert: So tell me about breathwork! What is it?!
Justin Timothy Temple: Let's try to keep it as simple as possible. Pranayama, as it is called in the context of a yoga practice, is commonly translated as breath. Its more literal translation is extending prana (life force or energy). A steady rhythmic breath is a key to that sort of process.
Am I doing pranayama right now as I sit here talking to you, or is it more intentional than that?
I think it’s a bit more intentional. Breathing is such an automatic process BUT a lot of what tends to be automatic for us could also be a pattern or habit that isn't beneficial (ed. note: I felt very seen here). So take breathing, for example, the idea behind pranayama is to extend the breath. I feel most of us are familiar at least in part with hyperventilation. When we practice breathing in mindful way, we are working on hypoventilation. This actually brings our autonomic nervous system (the stuff in the body we have less control over, like heart rate or anxiety) into more balance.
Can we do breathwork when we're not doing yoga?
Oh absolutely. I think it’s a great practice on its own. It can be as simple as setting a timer for 2 minutes and taking a long deep inhale and long deep exhale (ed. note — I tried this with a four-count inhale and four-count exhale). Just do that everyday.
I don't think we would ever normally think to take two minutes out of our day just to breathe...
I think that is the important thing to acknowledge about breathing or any sort of mindfulness practice is the opportunity to make time for yourself. When you show up for yourself in a meaningful way daily, that behavior extends out. If you are consistent and mindful and compassionate to yourself, you will be for other people in your life.
I remember during one of my first yoga classes, the instructor said to breathe through any pain or discomfort we may have as we venture into new poses and now I feel like I just do that in my life. I find myself breathing more intentionally when I'm stressed or upset.
What's the first thing we are told when we get super frazzled — take a breath and count to ten or something along those lines. It's just accessing the benefit of hypoventilation, moving us away from fight or flight and more into equanimity.
Can breathwork have other side effects? Can it make us feel more focused or creative?
I think it can certainly help with both of those things from the perspective of just moving into space of calm. I think the thing that can be noticed over time is a steady breath becomes more of a natural pattern, and in that sense, your default could be a calming breath.
Until this becomes a default, when do you think we should take two minutes to just breathe? Is there an optimal time or emotional state?
I really think there is something to doing practices in the morning. There's nothing to compete with, but really any time of day is good. It can [also] be helpful to do so if you feel distracted at work. No matter what, just remember to go easy on yourself and if it’s hard to get into a groove one day over the previous, THAT’S OK! That's why it’s a practice. There's really no perfecting any of this stuff.