Tired of using the ocean as a visualization cue in pranayama? Looking for a practice that will help your students feel more balanced, or that will anchor their meditation? After all, there are only so many times yoga teachers can use ocean waves as an analogy for the inhale and exhale, right?
Here are a few fresh, new visualizations for pranayama and meditation you might try.
This is a very tactile visualization. Imagine cradling a ball of warm pizza dough. Inhale, and notice how the dough feels and smells—the weight, consistency, fragrance, and temperature. With an exhale, imagine that you are slowly pulling the dough apart, just as you pull out and extend the exhale, stretching it and working with the elastic tendencies of both the dough and the breath.
On the inhale, gather the dough into a ball again. On the exhale, pull it out in all directions, making a larger circle—with the goal of achieving an exhale twice as long as the inhale (visamavritti), which will activate the relaxation response.
This next visualization is for those of us who are still kids at heart. It seeks to intermingle at the body’s core the prana vayu (the inward-moving vital energy associated with the heart) and apanavayu (the vital energy that moves downward and outward) for maximum energetic focus and centering.
To begin, picture a slide. It can be a slide from a favorite playground you remember as a child. Next, picture a trampoline, somewhere in nature, and under a clear blue sky. On an inhale, imagine the breath sliding down that playground slide, from the heart center down to the root chakra. At the root is the trampoline. On the exhale, gently engage the pelvic floor and lift it gently, imagining the breath bouncing off the trampoline—the apanic energy moving back up to the heart and intermingling with the pranic energy that resides there. Continue this visualization while adding additional details you may remember: the color of the slide, perhaps? On the rebound from the trampoline, you might see trees in the distance, and the blue sky all around.
Continue this visualization of directing and intermingling heart and root, prana and apana.
This is a quick and simple pranayama cue. Imagine a feather floating in the breeze. On an inhale, imagine the feather being caught by an updraft and wafting up toward the sky. On an exhale, imagine the feather drifting back down to the ground. You could assign words to these actions, mentally reciting “rising” with each inhale and “falling” with each exhale. Giving the mind something to do and say will help to keep it from wandering. Picture the path the feather could take as different each time it rises and falls, lifts and settles.
This can be particularly effective when practicing diaphragmatic breathing on your back, allowing the belly to rise and fall with the feather.
This practice is a very effective mindfulness meditation. Imagine yourself on the deck of a house that sits in the middle of a meadow. You are seated comfortably, sheltered by a roof over the deck, and with the meadow all around you.
As you look out at the sky, you notice a single gray cloud. You begin to see a few raindrops, and you watch as those drops develop into a rainstorm. You hear the rain drum its rhythm on the tin roof above you, which is keeping you dry. The air has become fresher, with a slight breeze that gently lifts your hair and cools your skin. The smell of the rain is the scent of new beginnings. The plants and rocks and the ground itself are transformed in sight and scent by the soft, warm, spring rain. And like this storm, which is already passing, you realize that any emotion you feel—whether anger, anxiety, sadness, or even happiness—will eventually pass. It affects you for a brief moment in time, and then it is gone.
Being aware of these emotions and sensations in the moment is what mindfulness is all about. It’s the focus on the present moment. You cannot, after all, live your life in the future or in the past—but you can examine and embrace what is in front of you in the present. But that present moment also doesn’t last forever, blending into another present, just as each breath blends into the next.
This is a wonderful visualization to accompany nadi shodhana, which is beneficial for calming and centering the mind in preparation for meditation. It can also serve as its own meditation.
Establish a pattern of breathing in through the right nostril and exhaling through the left, then Inhale left, exhale right. You can close off alternating nostrils by placing the right hand's thumb over the right nostril and the ring finger over the left nostril, with the index and middle finger resting lightly just above the third eye, and then closing off alternating nostrils to direct the breath in one side, out the other. In that same side, out the opposite. Alternatively, you can simply visualize the flow being directed to one side and then the other.
Once you have established the pattern of alternate nostril breathing, direct your focus to the ajna chakra (the space between the eyebrows, or the “third eye”). With the inhale, imagine the breath extending all the way up the side of a mountain with the peak at the third eye. Imagine the fresh and cool mountain air at the top, spreading outward from the third eye throughout the midbrain and the sides and back of the head and neck, bringing clarity and release of tension. With the exhale, imagine the breath flowing down the other side of the mountain, out the opposite nostril. Imagine any stale air, frustrations, tension, stress, or anxiety rolling down that side of the mountain and away from you. Repeat, inhaling on the same side up the side of the mountain to the crisp mountain air, and exhaling back down the other side.