Weekly Work-In: Week 4 - How to Support the Energetic Body
Last week, we focused on reviewing the five-body approach to personal well-being. Hopefully, you discovered where you are already dedicating energy and where you need to spend more time, energy, and effort to build up your health.
For the next four weeks, we'll look at supporting each of the bodies. I'll be operating under the assumption that most visitors to this article are already sufficiently addressing their bodily health through exercise and nutrition. With that in mind, this week, we start with the energetic body - pranamaya kosha.
In yoga, just underneath the sheath of our physical bodies lie our vital bodies. Just like in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which treats energetic imbalances rather than physical symptoms of illness, the yoga system believes many physical aches, pains, and discomfort come from underlying problems with the body's energy. While the study of the energetic body according to TCM and yoga is a life's worth of work to itself, here are some exercises you can do to build up your energetic health.
Pranayama (Breathing) Exercises
The physical body is nourished by food and water. The energetic body, though, is nourished by breath. Failing to properly breathe is a root cause of much fatigue and stress in the body. While there are dozens of breathing exercises to help you better control your body's wind force, here is a simple one to tap in to more conscious awareness of breath.
This exercise is called three-part breathing, and it is very simple:
- Sit or lie down with a tall spine. Place a hand on the belly and a hand on the heart. Inhale, breathing into the belly only. Feel it expand up, out, and in all directions. Exhale out the belly alone. Do this three times total.
- Now, inhale, to the space between your two hands - the rib cage. Exhale out the ribs only. Repeat a total of three times.
- Finally, bring your awareness to the hand over your heart. Inhale, feel the top of the chest expand out and up, as if it is going to touch your chin. Exhale, feel the chest fall softly away. Focus on breathing just into the top of the chest for three rounds.
- To complete this exercise, combine all three. Inhale one-third of the breath into the belly, one-third of the breath into the ribs, and one-third of the breath into the top of the chest. Exhale out the chest, the ribs, and then the belly. Do this three times to yourself.
At the end of this exercise, you will notice you are breathing deeper, slower, and more consciously. You may also notice a feeling of relaxation and lightness in the body. Deep breathing is one way to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is the body's "rest and digest" system. It is the part of the central nervous system we need to activate to restore health to pranamaya kosha.
Homework: Aim to practice three-part breath for five minutes a day this week.
The brain has evolved over thousands of years to have complex systems for taking cues from the mind and body. When you know the cues needed to calm down the brain, you can use them any time you like to calm down the body. It is an interesting circuit: calming the body will calm the brain, which will then tell the body to calm down.
Try these simple brain cues to start the circuit:
- Touch your lips. This is a cue to the brain leftover from our time as babies that tells the brain everything is going to be okay.
- Visualize people and places that comfort you. You may picture your favorite place as a child, your sanctuary, your home, or your favorite vacation spot. Similarly, picture a pet, lover, parent, or guide who helps you feel supported and safe.
- Perform the ritual you developed in Week 1 to help you regain focus.
- Receive acupuncture. If you do not have time or cannot afford acupuncture, go for a massage. If a massage is also too deep an investment, get a pedicure or simply rub your own feet. Receiving touch is stimulating to the PNS, and the feet in particular have an excess of acupressure points to help you feel rejuvenated.
Now that you are aware of your energetic body, you may notice you routinely feel drained of energy. This is a sign pranamaya kosha needs more attention in your life. In this case, here are ongoing suggestions to build up your energy:
- Opt for restorative and yin yoga whenever possible. These yoga practices are designed to stimulate energy in the body through the meridian system of TCM and/or practices for the PNS.
- Turn off the television, computers, and phones several hours before bed. Studies show the light emitted from these devices disrupts melatonin production close to bedtime. Even this change alone may lead to better, more rejuvenating sleep and a healthier energy level.
- Get outside. Since air nourishes the energetic body, fresh air is one of the simplest forms of medicine for your vitality.
- Schedule "me days." Days dedicated to simply being in your body can work wonders for your energy levels. Take one day each month to be as quiet and contemplative as possible. Visit a museum or one of your favorite places and simply be there, without need to do anything else. If you are lucky enough to have the flexibility to spend one day each month in total silence, do it.
Your Work-In for this week is to be aware of your energy, use three-part breathing to help develop breath awareness, and use brain cues whenever needed to help stimulate your PNS. It can be particularly hard for athletes to dedicate time to a part of the body that cannot be seen, heard or "worked out." Challenge yourself to take this step outside of your comfort zone for your health.
Check in with comments below to let me know if you notice any difference.
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