Why is the breath so important? Why is there so much emphasis put on breathing in Yoga and meditation? When you think about it, we can live without the basics such as food, water, shelter, or love for some time and still survive. The one thing that we cannot live without for even 5 minutes is our breath.
The breath is what connects our true essence, self, or soul to our body. It is the thread that links our body, mind, energy, and spirit. When we come to the realization of how crucial our breath is to our wholeness, health, peace of mind and longevity, then we come to understand the importance of harnessing, deepening, and gaining control of the breath.
Pranayama or breath practices is an integral part of yoga and meditation. Prana means life-force and ayama tо regulate оr lengthen...so the practice of pranayama is to regulate and lengthen our life force.
The breath is the one function in the body that is both involuntary (meaning that we continue to breathe whether we're conscious of it or not) and also voluntary (meaning we can control our breath consciously). It is the management of prana, the vital life force that animates all levels of being. Prana enables the body to move and the mind to think. It is the intelligence that coordinates our senses, and the perceptible manifestation of our higher selves. By becoming more attentive to prana—and enhancing and directing its flow, through these practices we can invigorate the body and the mind, develop an expanded inner awareness, and open the door to higher states of consciousness and being.
When the breath is controlled, strong and functioning harmoniously, the health and vitality of the mind follow. There are a number of breathing patterns that I will teach you in future classes. Some are stimulating, some balancing and some calming. All of the breathing practices help to increase oxygen in your cells, remove stale air from the lungs and toxins from your body.
A simple breathing practice that you can do anytime is a breath called, ‘three part breath’. Let’s practice. Sitting or lying in a meditative posture, inhaling and exhaling through the nose, slowly inhale to the count of 3 into the abdomen, the ribs and the chest.... and exhale slowly, abdomen, ribs and chest. Take 10 breaths like this. This is a calming breath and a great beginning practice to begin to feel what it's like to guide ourselves through the breath, to breathe deeply, intentionally, and in a focused and controlled way. It may be hard at first, but keep practicing and you will get it, believe me!
The second breathing practice you can try is, ‘square breath’. Inhale to a slow count of 4, pause for 2, and exhale to a slow count of 4, pause for 2 and repeat 10 times. It’s helpful to focus on the pause between the in-breath and the out-breath. I call this the magic moment where you feel a sense of suspension or floating sensation. This is also a calming breath.
After these 2 relaxing pranayama practices, let the breath come back to normal and meditate for up to 15 minutes just focusing on the natural inhale and exhale. You can always visualize the breath coming up the spine from the tailbone to the crown of the head on the inhale and the breath moving down the spine from the crown of the head down to the tailbone on the exhale, if this helps you.
Each time that the mind wanders, bring it gently back to the breath without judgement or self criticism. A wonderful mantra to repeat during this practice is: 'Not now, I'm breathing'.
Go for as long as you feel comfortable. Enjoy your breathing meditation.