Echo Pranayama: A breath to clear the mind

Our minds have a proclivity to grasp at our worries. They attach to our recent dramas, our worries and concerns and they won’t let go. My recent mental obsessions have revolved around my son and my studio. If allowed, I find my mind returns to these subjects obsessively. Seemingly believing that more worry will resolve my issues. And my 'wise mind' knows I need to let things go, that worry will not resolve anything. But left to it’s own devises, my unfettered mind worries.

When the focus of your Pranayama practice is the exhalation, then the mind practices letting go. Our minds observe the action of the body letting go over and over again and follows suit. When we focus on our exhalation we release what we do not need to hold. We offer our anxieties to the universal breath. We begin to watch our thoughts just as we watch our breath and we have the ability to let our thoughts go. Our minds calm.

When we exhale we detoxify our bodies, literally releasing toxins into the air. Lucky for us, our toxins and waste products are another organism’s food and nourishment. As we relax into our exhalation, we relax into the dynamics of life. We become part and parcel of the life and energy that is exchanged between each being on this planet, between plant, animal, vegetable and mineral. Focusing on the exhalation is an exercise in trust, trusting the bigger process of life to hold us, to take what we do not need and return to us what we do need. When we surrender to this process we discover that we are taken care of by powers greater than our self.

In light on life, BKS Iyengar suggests Echo Breath as a Pranayama practice for minds that struggle to become quiet. Whenever we are confronted with mental worry or obsession, Echo Pranayama is a excellent practice to restore a calm mind. When you find your mind returning again and again to the same refrain, Echo Breath is a tool to release the refrain and find your own inner quiet again.

The practice is simple:
Take a comfortable seat, either on the floor or in a chair. Sit upright. Do not rest back into the chair seat or slump into the space behind you. Bring your rib cage to float like an inverted bowl directly over your pelvis. Bring your head to float directly above your heart. Soften the back of your neck. Once the neck feels aligned rotate your head forward to bring your chin toward the notch of your sternum.
  1. Breath through your nose.
  2. Begin with an easy exhale followed by an inhale.
  3. Gradually extend the length of each exhalation.
  4. As you find your maximum exhalation add a moment of rest after the end of the exhale. Rest for one or two seconds, long enough to notice but not long enough to cause anxiety.
  5. After a few cycles of this, add an additional exhale after the rest. And then rest again for another second before you receive a smooth inhalation.
  6. Do not grasp the inhale, receive it as a gift.
Focus on your exhalation, following it to the end, resting and then exhaling further. Continue to empty your mind with each exhalation. Offer your thoughts to the bigger mind of the universe and trust that what you need will be returned to you, just as the next inhalation is given to you.

Continue Echo Breath Pranayama for 3 to 5 minutes. Rest in Savasana (relaxation pose) when you are finished.

If you become anxious or short of breath during Pranayama immediately return to your normal breathing pattern. Rest and try again another day.

You can practice this Pranayama any time anxiety or obsession pull at your mind. As you bring your breath under the guidance of your deeper mind, so you will be able to turn your thoughts where you want them to go.