If you’re breathing and you are aware that you are breathing, you’re doing yoga. You’re practicing Pranayama. It’s that simple. Pranayama is a sanskrit word which literally means “extension of the life force within us”. More specifically, it’s breath work to control Prana or life force energy. And it’s the reason your yoga teacher is constantly reminding you to “just breathe’.
But it’s so much more than just the simple, involuntary act of drawing air in and letting air out. Let’s take a closer look at the Art of Breathing.
First, take a moment to close your eyes and breathe a few slow breaths.
What did you notice? It may have been the first time today you actually noticed that you were breathing! Our respiratory system is the only system of the body that works on both a voluntary and an involuntary basis. With or without your help, it works, until your very last breath. But most of us who live in western civilization have learned to breathe too fast, too shallow, and too absent-mindedly. By slowing down for just a moment to breathe more deeply and notice your breath you did a number of amazing things including:
- You lowered your blood pressure
- You lowered your heart rate
- You lowered your level of stress
- You released tension in your muscles
- You increased your awareness of THIS moment, a precious gift
- You triggered your relaxation response
- You created a more efficient delivery of oxygen to all of your cells
- You strengthened your lungs and respiratory system
- You delivered oxygen more efficiently to your brain
- You got rid of toxins
These are just a few of the many benefits of Pranayama. Just think what would happen if you practiced deep, focused breathing on a regular basis!
So, if you’re one of the “toe-tappers” in yoga class who can’t wait to get on to the real deal, the hard stuff, consider the benefits of adding just a bit of Pranayama to your yoga practice. There are many ways to actively work with the breath, but here’s a good way to start.
One-Week Breathing challenge:
For five minutes at the start of every day this week, challenge yourself to do nothing but sit and breathe. This can be in a quiet place, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, you may get more benefit out of practicing among the distractions of life! But just sit, close your eyes and breathe deeply for five minutes. Start with Equal Ratio Breathing. Inhale to a count of 4, and slowly exhale to a count of 4. Feel the breath expanding your belly, your rib cage, and filling up into your chest and shoulders. Count slowly, and notice how each breath gets a little deeper and a little longer than the breath before. You’re teaching your body to be more efficient with each breath. Watch for small changes, like the way your shoulders soften on each exhale. Pay attention to the tiny muscles in your face, around your eyes. At the end of your five minutes, sit and breathe your normal breath and take note of any changes you feel. Jot down your thoughts in a journal and see if you notice any changes over the course of one week. My bet is, the next time your yoga teacher says “just breathe”, you won’t be tapping your toe.
I would love to hear how you did with this challenge!