The Power of an Exhale
“The moment is not just a passing, empty nothing, yet…yet it’s empty with such fullness that the great moment, the great life of the Universe is pulsating in it…”
-from the film Waking Life
Intended full moon post
I meant to write this post with some how-to on embodying fullness through yoga. How do we do that? With a deep inhale and holding that full breath in for a short moment before we let it go with an exhale.
Guess what? Life got in the way, and I’m just now getting to it! At this point, the moon is waning and we’re sliding from full to new moon. If you’ve been reading this Yoga Mama newsletter for a while now, you know that I’m really into the idea of celebrating all the in-between moments. I’ll share one of my older posts on that here.
I haven’t changed the mini-practice that I originally put in the post, though. It still applies because without fullness, there is no need to empty; without emptiness, there is no potential for fullness. I’ve only tweaked the details and added some variations to inspire you to play with your exhales. Are you ready? Here we go.
No emptiness without fullness
Before I really got into meditation, I kept hearing descriptions of meditation as a way of ‘clearing your mind.’ There’s so much new-age chatter about letting things go, releasing what’s not needed, and it’s all good. We all need to say goodbye to things in our lives from time to time that keep us from living well.
But life as a mom is full; how hard it can be to find free, empty moments, open spaces among the toy clutter and baby items, and a mind that isn’t constantly running through a to-do list every day. Momlife is so full that most of us struggle to find time for ourselves, even for the basics like taking a shower or eating a meal while sitting down.
It can be overwhelming to think of adding another thing to the day, even if that thing is yoga, or something else meant to give you space and time to chill. It can be hard to see downtime as valuable and vital. It might not be urgent, but without it, every little thing can seem urgent.
A full schedule doesn’t have to be an obstacle to yoga and relaxation, though. Even if you can’t seem to find 5-10 minutes to get on your mat and move your body, sometimes just spontaneously pausing in the midst of the chaos of a moment can be oddly relaxing. Try it. And I write this for myself, too, because I know that when emotions run high in my kids, I could stand to do this, too:
Exhale all the way. Let that out-breath be so complete that your face and shoulders relax.
Inhale slowly, first letting that in-breath expand your belly, then the bottom of your ribcage, and finally the upper part of your ribcage. See if you can feel that expansion in the front, back, and sides of your torso.
Pause for 1-3 seconds at the end of your exhale. Hold that fullness for just a moment.
When you’re ready to exhale, sigh. It can be gentle, quiet, forceful, loud.
Repeat one or two more times.
Instead of sighing, hiss through your teeth to make a ssss or shhhh sound.
Exhale through closed lips to make them flutter.
Try bhramari, also known as bee breath.
Practice ujjayi breathing.
Try Golden Thread Breath.
It seems so simple, but I’ve noticed that much of my stress comes from forgetting to breathe, or from breathing in a constricted way. The stressor will probably still be there, but I bet you’ll be able to handle it more gracefully.
So the next time you think that maybe you should tell yourself to take a deep breath, consider focusing more on your exhale. When you breathe out completely, the inhale takes care of itself; it will always follow. Big, dramatic inhales without complete exhales can create anxiety and tension. Try it! Start your breath with an exhale, pause between the inhale and exhale, and play with some of the variations above. Let it be play, experiment, and practice this every day.
Do this while you move through postures on your mat; while you go for a walk in the neighborhood; while you wash dishes, rock the baby, take a shower, or pause in a heated moment with your kids. In other words, don’t let time be an issue; you can practice yoga in the middle of some of your busiest moments.This is one of the most portable, powerful yoga practices there is.