Take a 5 Minute Yoga Break with Mini Practices

woman practicing alternate nostril yogic breathing called nadi shodhana

Yoga that’s Available Anytime

Mini practices are short practices that you use to recenter, re-focus, re-energize at any point during your day. 

A mini practice can be five minutes, as short as a minute, or as long as 20 minutes, depending on your situation.  Sometimes, we need to tell ourselves it will only be one minute in order to get the mind to be willing to pause and do something different. And some of the more inconspicuous practices described here can be helpful whenever you are in a waiting line, check-out line or even at a red light while driving.

Just a Few Breaths

A mini practice can be as simple as 5 slow deep breaths, or one round of alternate nostril breathing.  Alternate nostril breathing, also known in the yoga world as Nadi Shodhana, is a key breath practice that is offered daily in our 8:00 am class (no fee as it is community-supported).

A mini practice can be used as needed or practiced as a routine at a certain time of day.

You could set a timer to remind you or pair your intention with something that already occurs during your day, such as a commitment to taking a deep breath after every phone call before going back to your to-do list. Or, do one round of alternate nostril breathing (takes less than a minute) when you sit down with a fresh cup of coffee or tea.

Calm the Nerves

If you have any reservations about including mini-practices in your day, whether in private or in public, think of it as an experiment. It’s okay for practice to be informal and brief, the idea being that you are reminding your nervous system that you are safe and that downshifting a bit out of the stress of busy-ness is a good thing.

Yogic Breathing Techniques

For the mini practices, there are endless options. Here are some suggestions.

Option 1 –  Alternate Nostril Breathing 

Close off the right nostril gently with the tip of your right thumb and inhale slowly and gently through the left nostril. Now, use your right ring finger to close off the left nostril and exhale slowly and gently out the right nostril. Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale through the right side.  When you are ready to exhale, close the right side and exhale out the left.  This completes one round. You can stop here and consider this a mini practice or continue this pattern, switching to the opposite side just before each exhalation continuing for a few minutes.

This breath is intended to have a balancing effect on the left and right sides of the brain. People report that it feels restorative and provides a sense of clarity and calm. If you don’t feel this way, don’t despair.  Sometimes it takes regular practice over time to feel the benefit of the more subtle practices.  However, whenever you take a moment to stop being busy and prioritize a moment of self-care, you are sending yourself a message to your nervous system and your own psyche that your well-being is important and this can begin to impact your self-esteem and make it easier over time to engage in self-care practices.

Option 2 –  The Soft Energizing Breath

An energizing breathing technique known in the yoga world as Bhastrika, has been slowed down, adapted and renamed The Soft Energizing Breath by a friend and yoga teacher colleague of ours, Tom Gillette.  I have created a handout about this breath which you can access here. This breath is also a part of the Daily Breath Practice / Chair Yoga class.

Option 3  –  The Ocean Sounding Breath

This technique, also known as Ujayyi, is relaxing and improves focus and a sense of grounding. This breath is subtle and if done softly as intended may not be noticeable unless you are in a very quiet room.  Simply create a slight constriction in the back of your throat and you slowly breathe in and out through your nose.  You want to create a sound in your head that sounds like the ocean in a conch shell. This is quite soothing for the nervous system and you can continue this breath at whatever pace is relaxing and for whatever period of time you have to give to it.  As mentioned above, in public, where there is ambient noise, you can create this soft ocean sound as you breath and sooth your nervous system even while standing in line in a public place.  Of course, with social distancing, you are even less likely to be heard!  When overdone, this breath has playfully been called “the Darth Vader breath.”  But I recommend keeping it softer and more relaxing with more of a positive association…like the calming sounds of soft waves on the seashore. 

Option 4 – Meditate on One Sensation

Closing your eyes and noticing the pace of your breath without changing it and simply focusing on the subtle sensations of the air moving in and out of your nostrils is one of many options for focusing on one point of sensation in the body. You could also focus your attention on your heart, perhaps placing a hand over your heart to give you a tactile reference on which to focus your attention.  Another possibility is to notice the movement in your chest or belly as you breathe.

Option 5 – Self-massage

Simply squeezing up and down your arm with your opposite hand, or, if you can, remove your shoes and give your feet a moment of freedom and squeeze or rub them.  Try pressing your thumb and fingertips into your scalp and moving your scalp a little and then move your fingers to another spot and do a little scalp scrub. 

From these options you can then create and explore. Anything goes. If you have a meal break, do the practices first, eat second. Again, a simple act of self-kindness signals to your system that you are safe and that relaxation doesn’t have to wait until the end of the day.  You can access moments of peace within your busy day.

Whatever you try, be gentle with yourself and enjoy!

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