We all breathe but how many of us actually do so correctly and with attention?
Fast paced modern life, bad posture, emotional disorders, smoking, etc. usually lead to uneven use of the respiratory muscles and often below our natural capacity. As breathing affects our heart rate and our central nervous system, the way we breathe impacts directly on the way we feel inside.
Before I discovered Yoga, I used to be a typical shallow breather… My chest and throat felt tight, I used to feel stressed and anxious all the time, and my immune system was also on the “not so good” side…. When I started to get panic attacks and insomnia, a friend recommended that I try Yoga. Within weeks of attending a weekly Yoga class at my local health club, I started to feel better on every level. I even started to do a short self-practice at home whenever I could. Most importantly, I soon started to feel inspired again and even found a new sense of direction in my life. It was the beginning of a life long journey, which eventually led me to become a teacher in order to share with others what I have learned from the beautiful tradition of Yoga.
Because we are born with the automatic gift of breath, most of us don’t think about it or may be assume that it is beyond our active control. Yet, as described by BKS Iyengar in Light on Pranayama, the respiratory system is a gateway to purify the body, the mind and the intellect. Breathing can be made more efficient by changing its rate, depth and quality. As a matter of fact, the lung capacity of athletes, mountain climbers and yogis is far greater than the ordinary man, allowing them to perform better, beyond the usual limits. Better breathing means a better and healthier life.
From a more therapeutic point of view, learning to improve our breathing patterns can considerably help those suffering from insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression and also help manage heart disease. Once balanced breathing has been established, subtle changes can take place in the body such as improved posture, digestion, sleep and an overall growing sense of wellbeing. By slowing down our breath, we learn to become more at ease with ourselves and feel more relaxed. With regular and consistent practice, we become more mindful and more aware of our “vasana” (behavioural tendencies) . In the context of a Yoga class, the key to this is the right combination of Asana (postures) and Pranayama.
“Prana” means life force and “Yama” means to enhance, to expand. Hence, Pranayama is the practice of breathing techniques that enhance our vitality and concentration skills. Pranayama helps us move energy in the body, clear blockage in the nadis (subtle energy channels, also known as meridians in Chinese medicine), expels toxins from the blood and rids the lungs of stale air. In the yogic tradition, the breath is considered as the vehicle of Prana, a bridge between the body and the mind: as the practice of asana removes the obstructions which affect the flow of Prana, Pranayama regulates the flow of Prana through the body and the mind. The careful sequencing of Asana, Pranayama and Meditation have a calming effect on the physiological and nervous system. As a result of the right pranic balance, the mind quietens and the highest aspects of the mind (creativity, intuition, memory, compassion, forgiveness) are brought forward.
As we change the way energy flows within, the way we view the world starts to change and also impacts on the world around us (how we relate to others, and as a result the way others will relate to us and so on…). In Fire of Love: Teaching the Essence of Yoga, Aadil Palkhivala writes that “breath is our way to exchange atoms between us, that is why we are all connected with each other”. Using the breath to calm the “waves” of the mind is the ultimate goal of yoga (“Yoga Citta Vrtti Nirodhah” – Yoga Sutra 2 – Book one / Samadhi Pada). In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the world is considered as a reflection of the mind. Therefore, if we remove the filters from the mind, we understand ourselves and those around us better and see the world with more clarity and discernment.
So as you embark on your Yogic path, remember to let your practice be guided by your breath, enjoy every single bit of it ,let it inspire you and reveal the treasure within you. Most importantly, remain playful and enjoy the journey all along. Namaste !