Breath is Life

      Breath is Life

In the back of our mind we know that life starts with the first breath and ends with the last. But, as the respiratory system is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, most of us ignore the breath completely. There are two exceptions: pregnant women who are preparing for childbirth and high-level athletes. And yet, optimal breathing is just as important for all of us if we want to be at our best.

The fact that breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system is not the whole truth though. Breathing is the body’s only function that can run on automatic pilot and be controlled by the mind. This gives us the opportunity to change our attitude, the way we feel, our thinking, and our actions just by changing the way we breathe. Therefore, controlling the breath in a healthy way provides us with great power and control over ourselves and how we respond even in challenging situations. Focusing on the breath for a few moments gives us just enough time to choose wisely.

Two related disciplines underline the importance of the breath: Yoga and Ayurveda. Patanjali’s exposition of yoga dedicates one of eight limbs to breath control (pranayama). It is the last of the four active limbs. The next four limbs lead deeper and deeper into meditation, in which the breath plays an important part too.

 Ayurveda, the sister discipline of yoga, has a body/mind/soul model that, depending on the model, divides our whole being into 5-7 layers or sheaths (koshas) which are typically diagrammed as a pyramid. Without getting into the whole model, I’ll just address the first three layers.  At the base of this pyramid is the physical sheath (body, nutrition, exercise, sleep). Right above is the energy/breath sheath (pranamaya kosha). The mental sheath (manomaya kosha) rides on the energy sheath.  Located between the body and the mind sheaths, it is easy to recognize that the breath can affect both equally. For example, when we are anxious or stressed, our breath usually is flat. Just by breathing diaphragmatically we can reduce our level of anxiousness or stress, the heart rate will slow down and we can think clearly again.

Here are just a few everyday situations in which specific breathing techniques can help you to

  • calm down your mind
  • cool yourself down in the summer or in the heat of an argument
  • activate yourself
  • stimulate digestion and bowel movement
  • keep your nose free from congestion
  • center and relax
  • fall asleep.

The hard part is becoming aware of your mindset at a difficult moment and choosing the breath that is right for a given situation. It takes practice and patience with yourself, accepting yourself exactly as you are – which means not berating yourself for any specific feeling or thought – and gently guiding your mind back to your breath. Now you are beginning to develop a new relationship with your body and mind.

Welcome your breath as your new best friend.

Often, my students initially give me that quizzical look when I tell them: control your breath and you are in control of your life. But given a little time, they understand. Focusing on the breath gives them the chance to relax and think about their next action rather than rushing into, running away or freezing in a stressful situation. I am always excited to hear their stories about how focusing on their breath has helped them to remain cool, calm and collected when they were in a tough spot and maintain self-mastery.

Would you like to learn how to develop a new relationship with your body and mind by changing your breathing pattern? In as little as a 2-hour workshop you can familiarize yourself with the basics. Then it’s up to you.

Click here to check out my next “Breath is Life’ workshop on July 26, 2019

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