Each of us is physiologically designed to breathe. Our lungs sit on either side of our heart, bringing oxygen to our blood, and releasing carbon dioxide from our bodies. The breath is, quite literally, life-giving. It is a constant friend, with us from the moment we enter the world until the moment we transition out of it.
The breath is an analogy for the flow of life: in and out like the tides, waning and waxing as the moon, quickening and slowing with the rhythm of life’s changes. Our breath tells us all we need to know about our state of mind. When we are anxious or worried, our breath constricts with tension and trepidation.In grief, we sometimes gasp for air as we express our sorrow. In times of joy, the breath speeds up to meet the excitement of our heartbeat and the adrenaline coursing through our veins.
The sciences of Ayurveda and yoga discuss “prana,” the force that gives life its movement. Prana flows throughout the body in channels known as nadis, gathers in energy centres throughout the length of the spine called chakras, and is responsible for the growth and development of the body and spirit. This is the equivalent of the idea of “qi” in Chinese medicine. Human beings receive and strengthen pranicwell-being from the earth, the sun, the food they eat, practices of self-care and restoration, and also from the breath. The breath carries with it the energy of life; the force needed to cleanse the cells, recycle energy, and release stagnation.
The majority of life is spent unconsciously breathing. Conscious breathing, on the other hand, carries with it very different implications. Unconscious breathing can feed the energetic demands of the body on a physiologic level, but only when the attention is turned consciously toward the inhale and exhale of the breath does the frontal brain awaken to a new level of awareness and presence. In this new space, prana is fed to the brain for the benefit of mental peace, calm, and evolution.
Deep and conscious breathing calms the nervous system and alleviates the stress that keeps the mind from optimal functioning. In yoga we also call this form of breathing “pranayama”, meaning to control the breath or life force.
Start with putting aside five minutes of your time. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Inhale for four counts and exhale for four counts. Repeat this five to ten times. Allow your mind to follow the breath as it passes in and out through the nasal passages. Notice how you feel at the end of it. You can build on this practice in whatever ways work for you. You can try breathing in for four counts, holding for four counts, and exhaling for four counts. Repeating as above. You can also breathe in for four counts and breathe out for eight counts and notice a deeper relaxation as you increase repetitions.
Never underestimate the power of the breath.
Billy Rosa is a Registered Nurse, Integrative Nurse Coach Visiting Faculty, University of Rwanda