Breath is the energy of life itself. With every breath the lungs fill with oxygen and the heart pumps this nourishment through out the entire body. The body can survive for days without water and weeks without food, but five minutes without oxygen and life is gone. Pranayama means “breath control” in Sanskrit, and is one of the eight limbed path of Yoga. Learning to control the breath teaches one to control the energy of life.
Oxygen is the most primary element to life itself, and the breath is the primary regulator of oxygen in the body. In the east, breath control is known to be crucial to nearly every psycho-physical practice and tradition from time immemorial, but in the west we have barely begun to even understand that the way we breathe directly affects every aspect of the body/being. Breathing quick and fast will deliver a rush of oxygen to the muscles and brain, raising the heartbeat and creating a heightened sense of awareness. Breathing slow and deep will slow the heart rate and relax the muscles and calm the mind. Breathing erratic will create an irregular heart beat, tense the muscles and create a state of panic in the mind.
Step 1 – Holding the breath
Take the deepest breath possible and hold it for as long as you can. Use a second hand or stop watch to time yourself. As you hold your breath notice the sensations arising from the withholding of oxygen, and notice where they are located. When you absolutely cannot hold your breath any longer, exhale completely while allowing every muscle in your body to melt like butter. Notice every sensation as the oxygen begins pouring through your system. Learning to feel what oxygen does for the body is the beginning of learning the importance of the breath. Repeat this process two more times and try to hold your breath a few seconds longer each time. Allow your body to equalize and then notice what your state of mind feels like compared to when you started.
Step 2 – Breath of fire
Inhale and exhale rapidly in equal amounts through the nose for one minute solid. Concentrate on pumping the navel in and out rather than expanding the ribs. Notice every sensation as it arises without judgment or resistance. Notice any thoughts or emotions that come along with these sensations and accept them without judgment as well. Upon reaching one minute, take a deep inhale, hold it for a couple of seconds then exhale as deeply as you can letting the entire body melt like butter. Allow all body systems to equalize and then notice what your state of mind feels like compared to the previous exercise.
Step 3 – Effortless breathing
Close your eyes and viscerally recall the sensations of the previous two exercises. What did they feel like and where did you feel them in your body. Now focus on the feeling of your breath moving naturally in and out of your body and allow it to become completely effortless. No resistance in any part, and no artificial pushing in any part. Simply breath as naturally as possible and notice every sensation that comes along with this and any thoughts or emotions as well. Breath naturally with no effort whatsoever for at least three minutes solid. When you are finished notice what your body and your state of mind feel like compared to the other two exercises.
In the comment section below, tell me about the different sensations these exercises created in your body and the different states of mind that came along with them. Do you see a pattern in these relationships?