By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
How important is breathing in Yoga practice? Yoga is so much more than just fancy postures. Strength and flexibility are only two small parts of the Hatha Yoga practice. Breath is something perceived as so mundane, that it is taken for granted. Yet, mastering the breath through pranayama practice is truly one of the pathways to inner peace.
“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.”
~ Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika
When are we aware of our breathing? Rarely, if ever, are we inclined to give attention to this most basic life giving force, which is drawn in and out of our bodies, every living moment of our lives. In many traditions throughout history, the breath was thought to be linked to the soul. Sadly, most of us were not taught how to breathe, and without that basic knowledge, we lose the ability to simply be, as well.
One of the primary principles of Raja and Hatha Yoga is called pranayama, which is the art and science of controlled breathing. In everyday life, people tend to breathe from the chest, instead of from the belly. Deep breathing from the belly is healthier and deeper. Watch a sleeping baby, or kitten, and you will find that their breath seems to fill their belly. Perhaps it is our modern fixation with thinness, or the type of clothing we wear, but for some reason the inherent knowledge of how to breathe deeply is lost as we age.
These low, shallow breaths fail to fill the lungs, and the lung capacity is greatly reduced. Fast, shallow breaths are also associated with fear and panic, and studies show that breathing in this manner will actually raise blood pressure. Deep, slow breaths lower blood pressure and raise resting rates of oxygen in the blood, along with releasing carbon dioxide from the body. The end result is increased health from the inside out. Practicing Yoga and pranayama, on a daily basis, improves heart health and lung function. Each posture is designed to guide the breathing.
To look at pranayama simply: We inhale and exhale for a specific ratio, getting valuable oxygen and stress reduction. This is often enough for most people, who barely realize that their breathing has been altered by situations, which naturally occur during the course of a day. However, serious Yoga practitioners may wish to go deeper into pranayama itself. For these practitioners, it is essential to find good and reliable information. Pranayama, while very beneficial, can be harmful if practiced improperly. Some of the dynamic pranayama techniques can cause hyperventilation, which may do more harm than good. Through gaining control of the breath, one gains control of one’s inner self by truly connecting the mind and body.
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