Synchronize your breathing and walking to increase energy, clear your mind, lighten your mood, and feel more connected to nature. Breathwalk Yoga, a style developed out of Kundalini practice, delivers a more conscious awareness of the body and a more peaceful day. If you can walk and breathe, you can learn to do Breathwalk.
Step Into Greater Awareness
Breathwalk is the conscious coordination of breathing, walking, and meditation. It was designed by legendary Kundalini guru, Yogi Bhajan, to fuse exercise, personal growth, meditative experience, stress mastery, and a clear mind into a beneficial physical and spiritual practice. The complete 5-step sequence takes about an hour, but you can customize your approach to fit a pre-work morning schedule, a mid-day break, or an evening routine. Breathwalk is practiced outdoors, ideally in a beautiful nature setting. In a pinch, just go for it, trying to avoid busy roadways so you are breathing the cleanest air possible.
Walk, Breathe, Repeat
You breathe, you walk, you repeat a simple mantra, you pay attention. That's it; it's a practice so simple a child could do it and so profound you will never stop deepening your understanding and perfection of it.
- Begin by walking normally in a place where you are unlikely to be interrupted. A city park, country field, forest trail, outdoor labyrinth, tide line - even your backyard will do if you have no access to any other outdoor space. Pay attention to how your body feels and how you are breathing. Do you gulp shallow "chest breaths?" Do your ribs expand with each inhalation? Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth? Making noise? Taking deep even breaths or erratic ones?
- Start to breathe quietly and deeply through your nostrils and coordinate your breath with your steps.
- Inhale four steps, exhale four steps. Be conscious of your expanding and contracting diaphragm. Relax your facial muscles.
- When you are comfortable breathing and walking, switch to a series of four quick inhalations and four explosive exhalations -- each series of inhales and exhales on a single step and all of them through your nose. This is noisy breathing. Listen to it and keep it staccato to boost energy. Use your belly muscles to push out the fourth exhalation until you are empty. Then repeat the four-in, four-out sequence for about five minutes.
- After each five-minute staccato breath sequence, walk normally for three minutes. Stay conscious of even, diaphragmatic breathing and coordinate each breath with one step.
- On the second staccato breath sequence, mentally say the sounds of a Sanskrit mantra, SA-TA-NA-MA, one syllable with each breath. Keep the sequence going for five minutes, then walk and breathe naturally for three minutes. Repeat several times, up to an hour for the entire walk, if you can manage it.
That's the basic practice. It will boost your vitality and clear your mind. Try it when you are losing steam or need better focus. As you become more comfortable with the sequences, you will notice the shift in energy level immediately.
The Breathwalk system affects five measurable areas of health: cardiovascular, visual, balance, mood and brain activity.
The breathing pattern is a heart exercise that increases oxygen uptake. The heartbeat moves through a series of slow and fast reactions, increasing flexibility and resiliency. Vision seems clearer and more acute; you may see in greater detail and in more vivid colors as your stress level decreases and your brain reacts to the repetitious pattern. The synchronized walking and breathing improves balance and trains the body to use the muscles on both sides of the body equally, countering any tendency to develop uneven strength on the right or the left side.
Brain scans of Breathwalk practitioners have shown increased activity in both sides of the brain, as well as improvement in cognitive function. A regular practice lowers anxiety and depression and boosts positive feelings and overall mood. Yogis who do Breathwalk learn how to use it to shift a negative mood to an upbeat one.
Training and Teaching
There are 20 different Breathwalk programs designed to accomplish everything from improving balance to losing weight to discovering inner peace to slowing aging. Several of the programs improve verbal and nonverbal rapport. Others expand vitality and endurance. You can learn Breathwalk by joining a class or taking a workshop with a certified instructor, and you can add Breathwalk to your therapeutic, coaching or yoga teaching practice by taking the intensive training to become a certified instructor. Official classes are taught in 29 states, Europe, Canada and Mexico. The Kundalini Research Institute website lists officially sanctioned Breathwalk instructors.
- In Chicago, Kundalini Yoga in the Loop offers a weekend-long personal intensive for about $250, followed by a second weekend of instructor training for about $450. You can take the first weekend alone to learn a strong foundation and develop your own practice.
- Shakta Kaur from Kundalini Yoga in the Loop also teaches personal workshops at Hacienda Yoga in Espaniola, New Mexico (near Santa Cruz). Check Hacienda's website for cost and details.
- In Durham, Maine (near Lewiston and Freeport), Wind and Sky Kundalini Yoga offers workshops on a sliding scale fee from $20 to $45.
- The Nathan Littauer Hospital Wellness Education Center teaches Breathwalk on a walking track in Gloversville, New York, in the foothills of the Adirondacks, about 50 miles outside of Albany. The course is free; check their website for scheduled programs.
If you can't make it to any physical locations, you can do a home study with the definitive book Breathwalk: Breathing Your Way to a Revitalized Body, Mind, and Spirit. Read, absorb, take your knowledge outside, and take a walk.
Catch Your Breath
Elevate yourself out of the stress and drudgery of your multitasking day with a Breathwalk break to restore your body and mind to sanity. The different breathing patterns, such as Eagle and Dove, give you specific results that you can feel as you walk. The takeaway is a calmer, clearer, more focused, more invigorated you -- a position of strength that's as close to you as your next breath.