Nostril Breath Concentration Practice
Words: Daine Ashfield
Finding it hard to focus? Remove the chattering of your mind with a concentration practice. We often feel frustrated when outside noises or disturbances such as dogs barking, police sirens and noisy neighbours interrupt our train of thought during times when we really need to concentrate or if we are trying to sleep. Although these external commotions can be very off-putting, the worst offender when it comes to distraction is our minds! Our minds are such chatter-boxes – they just love to gossip, plus they really enjoy making up “what if such-and-such happens?” stories and scenarios – it can often be hard for us to turn the jibber-jabbering off. Sometimes hearing a certain song on the radio can conjure up a thousand memories leading us on a journey down Memory Lane and prompt us to wonder “where on earth did that thought come from?” Plus that certain song can then stay stuck in our head all day long which can be incredibly annoying! Other times our minds dwell on the past – we think about things we should have said or done, or things we shouldn’t have said or done – and then we play these scenes over and over again in our minds – which, in all honesty, can be seen as a form of self-torture! There are also times when our minds are looking ahead to the future – thinking about items we need to source or buy, things we need to get done or plan for, etc., etc. It’s little wonder that we don’t often appreciate the present moment because there’s always just too much to think about! If only our minds had an ON/OFF switch!
Our minds are definitely complex and complicated working machines which can all too often become so distracted that we forget what we are doing and leave the house with the bath still running! However, quietening and stilling the mind when there are a million thoughts fighting to be heard in our heads can be achieved with the help of yoga. Working with a yoga concentration practice – known as Dharana – can help to remove that constant “chitter-chattering” of the brain, improve our memory, balance the nervous system, bring more clarity to the mind and can also help relieve headaches and reduce anxiety and depression by bringing our focus to just one object or subject. The best thing is you don’t have to be a yogi or even be able to touch your toes to work with a concentration practice, and there are an abundance of different techniques and practices to try. Some practices use an object to focus upon – such as a pebble, a crystal or even a chocolate chip cookie! – others may include the use of a mudra or hand gesture to intensify our intention, so it’s worthwhile to experiment with a few and find the most effective concentration practice that works best for you. The following is a simple five minute exercise to practice in times when we know we need to focus on something with our full and undivided attention, or if we are having trouble nodding off at night.
To begin with, sit comfortably or make yourself comfortable in bed if you are using this practice to induce sleep. Whether you are sitting on a chair or on the floor propped up with cushions – maybe with your back up against a wall – make sure you are comfortable and encourage your spine to be tall, shoulders back and down, and your chin parallel to the floor. If you are lying down, tuck the chin in ever so slightly to feel the length in the spine. Hands may either rest on your thighs, in your lap or wherever feels right for you. Take a few deep, easy breaths to settle the body down, lower the heart rate and quieten the mind. Now breathe in deeply, and as you do so, take the shoulders up towards the ears – as high as you can take them. And then as you breathe out, slowly roll the shoulders back and down as far away from the ears as you can. Repeat five times, working the movement of the shoulders with the breath, and then softly close your eyes. Take a quick body check to make sure that your body isn’t feeling any twinges or niggles anywhere and if so, adjust yourself so that your body is so comfortable and relaxed you have absolutely no desire to move, but know that if you need to move at any time it’s OK. The easiest way to bring our focus into the present moment is by being breath aware, so to begin with guide your awareness towards your breath and just listen and tune in to the gentle rhythm of your breathing. Continue to notice the breath gently coming and going – not analysing, altering or controlling the breath – just watching and being aware of the body slowly and gently breathing itself. The breath comes and goes naturally, steadily, easily and peacefully.
Once your breathing feels totally relaxed, begin to breathe more fully and deeply, encouraging the breath to come all the way down towards the belly so that you notice the stomach gently rising and falling with the breath – imagine your stomach is a like balloon which is gently being inflated. Slowly begin to extend your exhalation – this is the breath of relaxation – so keep breathing in deeply, but make your exhale last as long and as slow as you possibly can. Begin to let go of any discomforts. Begin to let go of any thoughts. Let your breath become your focal point and ignore any thoughts that pop into your head. Now bring your entire focus and concentration towards the tip of your nose, and notice the cool air entering the nostrils as you breathe in and the warm air leaving the nostrils as you breathe out. Keeping your awareness on your nose, bring all of your focus towards your right nostril. As you next breathe in, follow the breath coming in through the right nostril and imagine it travelling up and over the bridge of the nose, and as you breathe out feel the breath coming out through the left nostril. Then as you next breathe in, focus on your left nostril, following the breath coming in through the left nostril, crossing over the bridge of the nose and coming out through the right nostril.
And continue breathing in this way with all of your total focus and concentration on the breath coming and going through the alternate nostril – don’t worry if you lose track, just picking up where you left off. Should any thoughts develop, or if the mind wants to wander off or make up a story, take these thoughts to the back of the mind and bring your total focus back to the breath coming and going over the bridge of the nose like a rainbow. After a few minutes slowly open your eyes and gently let go of the practice, coming back to your normal relaxed breathing. Feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, more centred and grounded. Tune in to your whole body and take a few moments to notice how calm and relaxed your body feels. If you are seated, slowly begin to wriggle the fingers and the toes, take a few shoulder rolls, softly move the head from side to side, then whenever you are ready gently stretch out or move anything that feels good to release. And if you are lying down in bed, could you snore a bit quieter please – I’m trying to concentrate!
Diane Ashfield (aka Yoga With Dash) is a British Wheel of Yoga teacher with classes on line and in the London Borough of Bromley. She has been practicing yoga for over 25 years and has a lighthearted, non-fussy approach to her teaching, primarily focussing on appreciating and enjoying the journey towards asana. Diane is also a qualified Reiki therapist and tarot reader. E-mail email@example.com for more information on classes or find her on Instagram @yogawithdashuk