Breathing is the vital force of life. It is considered to be the mind-body bridge. Breathing is something that is done everyday, unconsciously; yet the majority of people do it improperly. When babies breathe, it is instinctive. Watching a healthy baby while sleeping, one may notice the deep breaths that are taken which fill up the diaphragm and move up into the lungs. As a person ages, bad habits are picked up, health often declines, nutrition worsens, and stress overwhelms the proper function of breathing. The word pranayama means “that which extends infinitely everywhere". It is the practice of prana or breath. The breath begins at an energy center inside and extends throughout the body to keep one alive. We exercise our bodies, but what about our breathing?
The balanced and peaceful individual is said to have more prana dispersed within the body rather than outside of the body. An image of a breath center with arrows pointing outward but staying within the boundaries of the physical being is one way to imagine an individual with healthy prana. It is thought that, when the prana remains in the body, the individual is free of physical symptoms. If one feels ill, anxious, restless, or discontented, the prana is at a greater force externally than within. This can show up in a variety of warning signs, from the overt physical manifestations, to the mental feelings of depression, lack of motivation, etc…
The state of mind is directly connected to breathing. The quality of our breath influences the state of our mind and vice-versa. They are one and the same. The most obvious example here would be the quality of breath in a stressful situation. The mind is overloaded with worries and the breath, in turn, becomes rapid, shallow, and sometimes even forgotten altogether. If the breath is used deeply and in a proper manner, the mind’s focus is taken away from the situation at hand and placed back into a state of peacefulness which shows an immediate reciprocation in the calming of the breath and the mind.
Humans generally, and often unknowingly, pollute themselves and the Earth with toxic substances and various forms of rubbish whether it is in what is consumed, or in what is allowed in the mind. Breathing suffers because of this. Breath, the very most important thing that bodies need besides water, is neglected or contaminated. When the body is filled with debris, breathing suffers, as there is not enough room for it to flourish in the body. A daily breathing practice, along with the other important aspects of a healthy lifestyle, can free the body of detrimental breathing patterns and reverse the process of destruction brought upon by our modern day society.
Breathing exercises are excellent tools that can even be used in everyday situations. In many instances, especially those entrenched in fear, anger, or stress, breathing will help to diffuse the state of mind that may cause a reaction or statement that is contrary to a balanced way of life. The exercises can also be used before speeches or performances that may be otherwise anxiety-ridden. Breathing exercises can be used in childbirth preparation and, hopefully, during labor to reduce the intensity of the baby’s birth. The benefits of pranayama are numerous and one who exercises the breath can only hope to have an opportunity to delve deeper into this realm that holds so much significance in our existence on this Earth.
Prana is life and pranayama is its exaltation. One should begin by becoming familiar with the breath and noticing the times when the breath is shallow; be the breath observer. It is recommended to begin breathwork with a qualified teacher (registered yoga teachers are trained in pranayama). As with anything, the more one practices, the more it becomes automatic and a way of life. How can we deny the breath its proper exercise and practice? The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, remember to take the phrase “just breathe" seriously as it may be that one body-mind-spirit link that you are missing.
"When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath. "(Hatha Yoga Pradipika)
Deborah L. Shipley, RYT
Deborah is a Registered Yoga Teacher and a writer of the free monthly e-zine Self Esteem: Shining from Within. If you would like to contact her please visit her website: http://www.quizforselfesteem.com her blog hosted e-zine site: http://www.quizforselfesteem.blogspot.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org