A wise man once said, "The breath is the greatest gift of all. It is the first gift we receive when we come into this world, and it is the final gift we give back when we leave." Lal Maharaj
Fortunately, breathing isn't something we think much about. Pause for a moment, receive a breath in and let it go. There is the miracle of life, flowing in all on its own. The mind communicates to the body automatically, without us even being conscious of it, to breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
Breathing is a complex and fascinating bodily function in that we are able to control it, unlike our digestion or cardiovascular systems. It’s impacted by whatever activity we’re doing at a particular moment, or by our emotional states. It’s one thing we have the ability to harness, and the effects can be incredibly healing.
We often don't breathe deeply enough as most of us are in a sustained state of stress. We hold our breath out of fear. We take shallow sips of air because we're upset over a fight with our partner or a mistake we made at work. We deprive our body of the nourishing, cleansing benefits of a full, deep breath. But if we are able to slow down and fully utilize our entire respiratory system--from diaphragm to lungs--we can allow our nervous systems a much needed break.
This ultimately guides our bodies and minds to a naturally more relaxed state, enabling us to face the daily challenges of life with ease. To breathe through the discomfort so we are able to revel in the joy. At a fundamental level, the state of our breath reflects the state of our mind. As we cultivate awareness of the breath, we begin to experience a state shift through conscious and deliberate breathing.
The human body is made from cells. Cells form organs, organs form systems. At the cellular level, we take in oxygen as we take in air, and this oxygen nourishes our cells. This nourishment is digested and metabolized, keeping what is nourishing and eliminating what is unnecessary or toxic. Or perhaps not. In yoga, this process of inhalation and exhalation, giving and receiving, is essentially referred to as prana and apana.
This breath charges every cell in your body. With each movement you are literally breathing life force, or prana, throughout. Breath is life. Receive it. Allow the fullness to reach the darkest places, the ones that haven’t moved or are perceived immovable. Be a yes for apana, the outward flow of energy. On the subtle level, apana eliminates not only physical wastes but anything undesirable or threatening to good health. It supports the immune system and helps keep the mind free of destructive forces. When apana is weak, the integrity of the mind-body complex is also weakened, and we become susceptible to illness, fear, doubt, confusion, insecurity, and loss of purpose; when it is strong and balanced, apana roots and grounds us, providing the foundation for a healthy body and a flexible positive outlook on life.
Yoga is centered around this very gift, the breath. The word “yoga” itself means to unite or integrate the body with the mind and breath. A vinyasa yoga practice, for example, synchronizes each posture, or movement, with every inhale and exhale. This awareness and attention on the breath creates steadiness and ease in the body and mind as it calms the nervous system and takes us into the flow state. Moving in the equanimous state of effortlessness makes even the most difficult poses manageable simply because you are focusing on the breath.
As we actively engage the process of breathing, expanding the abdomen and thoracic cavity, we are then able, not only to make space in our bodies and minds, but to unwind and unravel old patterns. To become undone. We actually are seeking out tension with the aim to soften, release and dissolve what is held, bound and limiting us, whether in the body or mind. Remember, the breath is a reflection of the mind, thus, where the mind goes, the body follows. This is a practice. It sounds simple, however, it is not easy. It’s why we go to the mat daily, it’s why we sit for meditation daily.
The research is very clear that breathing exercises like pranayama breathing can enhance parasympathetic tone, calm nerves, improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, decrease the effects of stress, and improve physical and mental health.
This is yoga. This is what we are doing at studios, gyms, and parks all over the world. We breathe to move, we move to sweat, we sweat our prayers, then we let it all go and trust that life giving breath and The One who breathed it into us to take care of it all. Jump into a class near you. Grab a teacher that can teach you to breathe. Give yourself permission to shift your state. Your power is in your presence. Get curious. Be all in. You were given that breath of life for a reason.
What are you going to do with it?
The Science of Breathing: https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/Breathing.html
Suggested Reading: Light on Pranayama by BKS Iyengar
Suggested Lectures: Leslie Kaminoff, founder of The Breathing Project
"Who made the world? Who made the swan, the black bear? Who made the grasshopper?