I have heard Rolf Sovik, one of my teachers, say, “Without the breath there is no yoga.” Take it one step further, without the breath there is no life. Humans can live only 6 minutes without the breath. Breath is also associated with all 11 systems of our body, one of these being the cardiovascular system. In short think of what a heart attack is: it is where there is a lack of oxygen to the heart. The breath eliminates toxins from the body and as in the heart restores the body and gives us energy or prana. The moment we have no inhale, we have reached the end of our life. The breath is also directly connected to the central nervous system that consists of the brain and spinal cord. The brain is connected to the hypothalamus, why did we just learn “head, shoulders, knees and toes?” Well the hypothalamus is a small section in the center of the brain, just above where the spinal cord attaches to the brain. And some say it is the CEO of the body with responsibilities lying both with the nervous system and the endocrine system. And the breath assists in regulating every part of these systems. So if one has difficulty breathing these system are more prone to disease.
Have you ever had a difficult time sleeping? Well you may have counted sheep, which is a form of stilling the mind as you need to focus on one thing, the counting. Or maybe you’ve tried to count your breath and as the breath slows down so does your mind to help assist you in sleeping. The parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) starts to take over and internally slows everything down to prepare the mind and body to sleep.
Being able to regulate our vital life force can assist our bodily functions and make them more efficient and run smoothly. This is also why the mind starts to become still from a regular practice of pranayama. Like in the sleep example above, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that in Hatha yoga, if one can control the prana the mind will automatically be controlled. This is why yoga spends time on learning how to breathe. The first step is to observe your breath and see where the imbalances are and from there begin to train the body to breath with the diaphragm. As one advances in the practice of pranayama the bandhas can assist the control of prana with retention (kumbhaka). Whether you are new to the practice or a veteran, practicing the techniques of breath not only keep our physical body healthy but settle the mind and assist us in realization of the true Self.
As a practice this month, start your day with a simple chant, diaphragmatic breathing in crocodile pose (makrasana) for 7 mins, Ujjayi breath for 3 minutes, then end with 3 rounds of Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breath).