(courtesy of Pearl Jam)

Just Breathe! with Pranayama Yoga

Created by
Anita Hamalainen

A Conversation with Kim Wenger Hall, Yogi + Artist

Q: Kim, you are teaching a Pranayama Yoga class this Saturday at Upper Valley Yoga. Some yogis really value the exercise component to their practice. Is the class just breathing?

Kim Wenger Hall

(Yogi, Artist, Renaissance Woman)

A: No, we'll begin our practice with discussion, followed by breath-alone techniques. The rest of the workshop will incorporate a good workout with yoga postures (asanas), focusing on the breath DURING the practice, thus giving our bodies and minds a better quality experience.

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Q: When my three sons were babies and a toddler, I would catch myself holding my breath. I'd stand at the changing table, gasping for breath while anxiety crackled through my body like an electrified live wire. A song came on the radio one morning, Just Breathe, by Pearl Jam, and following Eddie Vedder's advice, it felt like being wrapped in a healing embrace. I had unwittingly stumbled on a powerful stress management tool: BREATHING. Why is deep breathing so beneficial?

(courtesy of DifferentTruths.com)

A: In the face of stress, our muscles learn to tighten up, our breathing gets shallow, and the body pumps out adrenaline and cortisol, exacerbating our body's negative response to anxiety. We can actually train our breath to deepen in stressful and painful moments, reversing this negative spiral and restoring a feeling of calm. When you take slow, deep breaths, your body reacts: muscles relax, oxygen pours into your cells, blood pressure lowers, and mood lifting endorphins are released.

Q: There are those who shy away from yoga because it feels "New Age-y." How do you approach your classes?

A: My approach is to make my classes useful and lighthearted. Historically, yoga has been a spiritual practice, with the aim of bringing one closer to his or her higher power. However, in the West, yoga has become a spiritual practice only to the extent that the practitioner wants it to be. I am inspired by this quote from philosopher Brené Brown: "Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion."

Q: Can you give me an example of someone you've worked with who has really benefited from deep breath training?

A: One of my cancer center patients has to endure a lot of testing - from PET scans to EKGs and numerous blood draws. She used to feel anxious and would unknowingly hold her breath. She now practices simple breath-work: counting the heartbeats during inhale and exhale and making them the same length, known as a "counted breath" (sama vritti in Sanskrit, translated as "same length"). Her anxiety has diminished and she feels less pain during blood draws. She says time goes by faster during these procedures because she has given her mind something else to focus on.

Q: We're in the middle of the cold and flu season. Is it harder to practice pranayama when so many of us are battling significant congestion? On the flip side, might pranayama actually help with it.

A: Thoughtful breath work helps calm an irritated cough, but it can aggravate an active one. If you're coughing or have significant congestion, you might be more comfortable joining our next pranayama workshop. Thoughtful breath-work can start to open the airways in the lungs and can help the decongestion process. But if you're sick, see a doctor, not a yogi!

Q: How do we join the workshop?

A: Here's a link to register: Upper Valley Yoga - Just Breathe! Registration

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