The Sanskrit word for yogic breathing is Pranayama. Prana is the life force that keeps us alive. Yama refers to expansion and extension, the ability to expand the breath and increase energy in the body.
Breath is the most important tool in yoga. By connecting with the breath we find a feeling of lightness and clarity; create an instant support system for the postures. When we are feeling challenged in a pose our natural instinct is to want to hold our breath, to grit our teeth and push through it. Holding the breath can create tension, dull our awareness and often cause us to feel light headed or woozy.
Diaphragmatic breathing (the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm) is the cure for reducing tension in the body and quieting the mind. In a normal healthy breath, the abdomen puffs out as you inhale and relaxes in as you exhale. One type of inefficient breathing is “reverse” breathing. In reverse breathing you are working against yourself and using the diaphragm in a completely inefficient manner. Reverse breathers pull the abdomen in as they inhale and push it out as they exhale. Breathing this way can be very taxing on the nervous system. Take a moment to check in with the breath to determine if you are a reverse breather. Finding this out can change your life immeasurably and is very easy to correct.
“Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress related disorders, improving autonomic functions, relieving symptoms of asthma, and reducing signs of oxidative stress. Practitioners report that the practice of pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power, and sound judgment, and also claim that sustained pranayama practice extends life and enhances perception.”
It can also be a most important tool in our daily lives. We have all heard the phrase “take a deep breath” when confronted with a stressful or upsetting moment. By taking a slow deep breath through the nose we can relax the nervous system and calm the mind. We may not have time for a full asana practice, but we certainly have 2 minutes during the course of a day to close our eyes and bring our awareness to the breath. Inhale expand the belly, exhale deflate the belly. Just. Breathe.