Midterms. Nothing short of finals or a new Nikki Minaj album instills as much anticipatory dread. All three of these dreadful things should be accompanied by an incorporeal chorus of children, like every horror movie worth its salt.
And with dread comes stress. And with that? A kinked neck, knotty back and an upper and lower jaw seeking to grind each other into dust. All while our instructors keep reminding us that midterms are coming and, just to make it sting more, that we should be well into our final projects.
Well, at least one Salt Lake Community College instructor is looking out for the bodies of the student body.
Lin Ostler has 43 years’ experience teaching yoga, and more than half of that was right here at SLCC. To help combat midterm anxiety, Ostler suggests pranayama breathing, a yogic discipline in which breathing techniques are used to clear the mind and relax.
Ostler learned pranayama soon after taking up yoga while studying at a Sivananda ashram. And she has good news for SLCC students who are acutely mindful of imminent midterms. One particular pranayama breathing technique, ujjayi (ooj-eye-ee), is easy to pick up – and can be practiced anywhere.
“Ujjayi is called ‘victorious breath’ for a reason,” Ostler says. “It’s remarkable because it’s so consistent – you can count on it. The moment you begin to practice, it yields [benefits].”
Here are all the steps you need to get started:
Be Here Now
You don’t have to be on a yoga cushion in a studio or a quiet corner of your home to practice ujjayi. You don’t even have to close your eyes. Those things certainly help, but the benefits come from focusing on the breath. So wherever you are – the library, computer lab, the bus stop, even your car (hopefully with your eyes still open), just do it.
You Have Time
Not only are the benefits of ujjayi breathing instantaneous, a good session can last only five minutes. In fact, Ostler recommends that new practitioners only do ujjayi for five minutes because “constricting your trachea can get tiresome.”
Now to the actual breathing. There are different ways to approach ujjayi. Some use a three-part inhalation technique. Some breathe deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth – or in and out through one or the other. Others say the breaths should sound like that chronic mouthbreather, Darth Vader. Others, not so much. “I always say it’s like whispering ‘ah’ [as though] fogging a mirror or glasses,” says Ostler. “Then closing your mouth and continuing the sound with your lips together… like you’re blowing through a straw.” What they all agree on is to focus on the breath. The way it fills (or leaves) your lungs, the sound it makes. But try not to be so loud that you disturb others.
Don’t Half-Lung It
Many of us suck in our stomachs when we breathe. In reality, our chest and gut should be what expands with each intake. “We only use the very top of our lungs,” says Ostler. “Bring the breath into the whole lung – the middle, bottom, and the sides.”
With built-in instant gratification, ujjayi isn’t like practicing a musical instrument or sticking to a diet. So it’s not hard to keep it up. “And the longer you practice,” says Ostler, “You become more engaged in the world, more mindful, less involved in your thoughts.”
So did you give it a shot? Are you feeling focused and mindful? Good, now go study, midterms are still happening!