Breathing: moving air into and from the lungs to facilitate gas exchange with the internal environment, mainly to flush out carbon dioxide and bring in oxygen. Yoga, to some, seems like little more than a way to contort the body into unnatural poses or is a form of exercise to lose weight or tone up. But in actuality, the poses are just a tiny aspect of what is essentially a full-spectrum spiritual practice. Breathing is the critical component, and asana, or poses, represent only a single fraction of the whole piece that is yoga. Breath awareness is called pranayama.
I recently spent five days at the Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania for the last phase of advanced yoga teacher training that I started almost two years ago. One recurrent theme throughout this training was "breath."
One can practice as many yoga poses as one wants. But if deep breathing isn't taking place, the practice will not benefit the body. Breathing causes the movement of energy and helps the body relax. An already-stiff body that tries to shape itself into different poses will only injure itself. But when we breathe deeply, we can open ourselves to feel more emotion and be more in tune with what's happening in our bodies. Breathing deeply in yoga can help you avoid injury.
Anyone can choose only to do the poses, offering an excellent physical workout. However, yoga is far more. To breathe deeply allows us to access our transformative power. It opens us to yoga's ability to rejuvenate and refine our minds and bodies. Finally, deep breathing helps us find our way to unity. Circulation increases, hormonal balance is cultivated, and organs are regenerated.
Deep breathing can also allow us to experience our true essence. By letting our breath breathe us, especially during meditation, the natural flow creates and stimulates a transformation in the body and mind. We are purifying and cleansing both so that our true essence shines forth. It's a way to come home to ourselves.
One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is simply focusing your attention on your breath. It's a form of "entry-level" meditation that anyone can do. You'll notice an immediate sense of relaxation that could help protect your health over time. If you enjoy it, breath meditation can be a gateway to a broader practice of "mindfulness." You learn to accept and appreciate what comes in life and stop fighting your thoughts and feelings.
Five minutes a day is all you need to make a difference in day-to-day life.
Josee Madison, owner, Palmetto Yoga & Reiki Center