“Breathe into your armpits.” He said. “Now breathe into my hand” as he placed his hand between my shoulder blades. Did you know that we don’t use 60% of our lung capacity on a regular basis? Yoga and my body worker have taught me how to send breath I didn’t know I had, into places I didn’t know existed.
Pranayama is often translated as controlling the breath, but I prefer to explain it as the extension of breath. Through practicing these acts of controlling our Prana, our life force, we actually can extend the amount of breath our lungs can hold. No wonder hardcore yogis can live to be over 100!
Pranayama affects my life in many more ways than I realized. Here’s a list of what Pranayama, and more generally, my breath, means to me and how it’s impacting my life every second of every day:
Breath as a measure of health and wellness.
When I’m not in my routine, when I’m not getting enough sleep or not taking care of myself or eating healthy food, it shows up in the quality of my breath. That first OM when I finally get on my mat feels a bit stuck, a bit shorter than it normally does. I can feel the toxins, and spiritual/emotional/mental/physical gunk that needs to be released. Moving through a yoga class helps. Have you ever noticed your OM feels more powerful at the end of a yoga class compared to the beginning? This is yoga healing through your breath; moving things through your body and helping to increase your lung capacity.
A healthy mind has an easy breath. ~Author Unknown
Breath gives us the ability to concentrate, and focus
We are told to concentrate on our breath in countless practices. From meditation to running and many activities in between, we are guided to listen to and feel our breath as a means of staying in the present moment. As long as we are alive our breath is moving us, which means we always have the ability to tune in to ourselves. One can always come back to the breath.
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. ~Thích Nhất Hạnh
Pranayama gives us the ability to uplift or relax ourselves in any situation
Can you remember a time when you felt something akin to stage fright? Our shortness of breath is a very visible physical manifestation of feeling fear. From a young age many of us are taught certain breathing practices to help us regulate our breath in moments of intense emotions (e.g. counting to 10 when angry, curling into a ball to shorten the breath if one is feeling anxious, etc).
Practices like Nadi Shodhana and Sitali can help soothe and cool us while practices like Kapalabhati and Bhastrika can help detox and energize us and make us feel empowered.
When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace. ~Author Unknown
Practicing Pranayama gives us the ability to speak up, and sing out, and helps us move through fear.
Singing is breathing with added vibrations to create sound. Many people, including myself, are quite self conscious about others hearing them sing. We are all given these beautiful lungs, mouths and tongues that allow us to project our voices, to speak UP and sing OUT. Learning to use the full expression of our voice through song allows us to find our full expression in life. I’ve found that as I sing more and become more comfortable with projecting my voice through song, I’m also more comfortable speaking up in meetings and in large groups of people. I feel more confident expressing myself in all areas of my life.
Fear is excitement without the breath. ~Fritz Perls
The ability to create and participate in community
Being able to communicate with each other is critical to our survival and fulfillment as social creatures in this life. Feeling the power of our voices joined together in song, or in protest is something of awe. Having a voice allows us to connect with our oneness with everything. Having a voice allows us to enact real change. To support one another and be there for ourselves and our community. Our breath, and thus our voice, is a very powerful tool.
Breath is Spirit. The act of breathing is Living. ~Author Unknown
Breath is our fuel, our life force, our power and strength.
We often talk about food as our fuel, but breath, this life force, is much more vital (how long can we live without breath?) Every cycle of breath feeds our cells on the inhale and removes impurities on the exhale. Pranayama enables us to bring ease to these cycles for breath that many of us take for granted. Bringing ease to our intake of life fuel and excretion of toxins is surely a required ingredient to the extension of our lives.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am. ~Sylvia Plath
To breathe is to love. By focusing on our breath we are focusing on our life. We’re taking responsibility for our highest Selves. Breathing is not always easy. We often find we have to breathe through things, breathe into things. By being courageous and doing our work, we will find an ease in our breath, and thus in our life, that will carry us through.
There is one way of breathing that is shameful and constricted. Then, there’s another way: a breath of love that takes you all the way to infinity. ~Rumi
*Originally written for the Laughing Lotus Blog