Breath is life. We can live our days without food or water, but deprive us of breath and we die in minutes. In view of this, it is astonishing how little attention we pay in normal life of the importance of breathing.
To the yogi there are two main functions of proper breathing: to bring more oxygen to the blood and thus to the brain; and to control prana or vital energy, leading to control of the mind. Pranayama – the science of breath control – consists of a series of exercises especially intended to meet these needs and keep the body in vibrant health. Upcoming shares (and available on my blog) will focus on breath.
There are three basic types of breathing – clavicular (shallow), intercostal (middle) and abdominal breathing (deep). A full yogic breath combines all three, beginning with a deep breath and continuing the inhalation through the intercostal and clavicular areas.
Most people have forgotten how to breath properly. They breathe shallowly, through the mouth and make little or no use of the diaphragm – either lifting the shoulder or contracting the abdomen when they inhale. In this way, only a small amount of oxygen is taken in and only the top of the lungs used, resulting in lack of vitality and low resistance to disease.
The practice of yoga demands you reverse these habits. Breathing correctly means breathing through the nose, keeping the mouth closed, and involves a full inhalation and exhalation which bring the whole of your lungs into play. When you exhale, the abdomen contracts and the diaphragm moves up, massaging the heart; when you inhale the abdomen expands and the diaphragm moves down, massaging the abdominal organs.
There are three parts to each breath – inhalation, retention and exhalation. People often think of inhalation as the most essential stage of breathing but in fact it is exhalation that holds the key. For the more stale air you exhale, the more fresh air you can inhale. The yogic breathing exercises lay special emphasis on a prolonged retention and exhalation – indeed in some exercises the outbreath is twice as long as the inbreath, and the retention four times as long.
When you inhale through your nose, the air is warmed and filtered. But from the yogic point of view the overriding reason for breathing nasally is prana. Just as you need to inhale through the nose to extract scents from the air, so you must also inhale nasally to maximize the amount of prana taken in – for at the back of the nost lie olfactory organs through which prana passes to reach the central nervous system and brain.
The yoga breathing exercises teach you how to control prana and thus to control the mind, for the two are interdependent. When you are angry or scared, your breathing is shallow, rapid and irregular; conversely, when you are relaxed or deep in thought, your breathing becomes slow. You can easily test this yourself. Listen for a moment to the lowest sound in the room. You will find that, in concentrating, you unconsciously slowed down – or even suspended – your breathing.
Since your state of mind is reflected in the way you breathe, it follow that by controlling the breath you can learn to control the state of the mind. By regulating your breathing you are thus not only increasing your intake of oxygen and prana, but preparing yourself for the practice of concentration and meditation.
Namaste ~ StephanieTweet