The Art of Breathing

“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.”

The breathing techniques are what fascinate me the most during my journey of discovery in yoga. Breathing is something most of us take for granted – something we did not think we had to learn; but in our busy lives, we have neglected this vital force. Breathing can affect our moods, and more importantly, is the gateway to our sustenance of life.

The respiratory system is like a bridge between our conscious and subconscious minds, and there is a distinct relationship between our state of mind and the breath. Notice that our breath quickens when we are excited or stressed, and becomes deeper and quieter when we relax. By controlling the breath, we are able to control our state of being.

Many people, myself included, would usually first take to yoga through the asana practices, but the inclusion of pranayama – channelling the pranic energy in the body – is actually the core of a rounded Hatha yoga practice. The word pranayama is made up of two elements – prana, which refers to the vital energy or life force that exists in all things; and ayama, which is defined as expansion or ascension. Hence, pranayama in essence, is to expand the life force and regulate the prana in order to transcend our normal limitations.

Emotions, stress and even poor lifestyle habits – sometimes not by choice – has inadvertently resulted in irregularities in the pranic flow of the body, leading to devitalization of our organs and limbs, and ultimately to disease. By having long, deep, rhythmic and even breaths, prana is channelled throughout the body, purifying, stimulating and regulating the energy channels in the body.

To me, the best thing about pranayama is that even when we are seated at our office desks at work, we can easily do 10 rounds of deep breathing exercise without looking odd. A deep breath not only triggers the relaxation response, it also raises our resistance to stress. Besides briefly taking our minds off our work and enable us to refocus better later, breathing exercises also have a soulful benefit. According to yoga, every single being has a given finite number of breaths. By observing the breath rather than going through the motions means that we are really making each breath count.

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Janelle Lim (200hr TTC, Jan/Feb 2014 Weekday)