“Of all the necessities in life, breathing is your most immediate … you can probably go for about six weeks without food and for a few days without water. But without breathing, you would not survive for more than a few minutes.” (Swami Saradananda, ‘The Power of the Breath’.*)
We’re all breathing…
Breathing is fundamental to our existence.
It seems obvious to say this, yet the majority of the time we’re totally unaware of the fact we’re breathing. It just happens and we let it, paying very little attention to it.
… but are we breathing with awareness?
Yet by bringing our awareness to our breath we can consciously affect its quality. We can become aware of how we are breathing and how this affects our body and our mood, and vice versa.
For example, if we breathe shallowly in the chest we’re more likely to feel tense. If we’re worried and anxious our breathing may become constricted and we breathe more quickly. If we’re feeling relaxed and at ease we’re more likely to be breathing slowly and deeply.
So if we consciously decide to take big deep full breaths we can alter our state of mind: slow down your breath and you can quieten a racing mind, you can relax tense muscles, you can let go of fear.
I love the practice of Pranayama (yogic breathing techniques). It never fails to slow down my mind and bring me back into a clear sense of myself. Whether that’s content and relaxed or tense and worried – it provides me with the mirror for me truly to see myself as I am at that moment.
(As an aside, it interests me when people say they don’t like the “boring breathing bit” at the end of a yoga class. It makes we wonder what it is they don’t like about it. Perhaps they don’t want to slow down. Perhaps they’re afraid they won’t be able to avoid meeting themselves if they do?)
By taking a breath in – an inspiration – we can truly become inspired. Breathing consciously can calm down the incessant chatter in our minds; make us feel more alert and alive – the body will be taking in oxygen and getting rid of waste gases at a more efficient rate – and become more present to live our life to the fullest.
Techniques I love
I’ve learned a number of breathing techniques over the years and on my yoga teacher training course, but these are the ones I find myself returning to again and again:
- Deep yogic breath: breathing fully by breathing into your abdomen, rib cage and upper chest is revitalizing and immediately brings your awareness to your breath and where you may be holding tension.
- Kapalabhati (or Skull Shining Breath): energizing and focusing. I practice Kapalabhati at the start of my Pranayama session in my personal practice.
- Nadi Sodhanam (Alternate Nostril Breathing): deeply relaxing and balancing. I often visualize the breath coming in through the entire side of my body from the sole of my foot up to the middle of my forehead and out through the other nostril, down through my body and out through the sole of my foot.
- Ujjayi breathing: calming and quietens a racing mind. I find focusing on my breath sounding like the waves on a beach has a meditative effect and is deeply relaxing.
And something as simple and easy to do as taking a big breath in and sighing the breath out is a wonderful way to release tension – it only takes a few seconds and can make such a different to the way you’re feeling.
(Please note: Pranayama techniques should be learned under the guidance of a yoga teacher – it’s powerful stuff!)
* Swami Saradananda, ‘The Power of the Breath’, Duncan Baird Publishers, London, 2009, p10.