No breath, no life. We don’t have to eat for weeks nor drink for days and we can still live. But if we don’t breathe for more than a few minutes, we die.
Breath is the root that anchors us to space and time, that is, to life. This is why this article is dedicated to breathing, something we all take for granted because we do it so unconsciously.
Breathing from the lungs is the accepted way of breathing as far as most people know. But do you know that there is another way of breathing that has many proven side benefits? This alternative form of breathing involves breathing consciously, which is to say, paying attention to your breathing.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a collection of yogic principles written in or about 400 CE, with pranayama or proper breathing being one of the eight principles that will lead a practitioner to a good, healthy and purposeful life. “Prana” in Sanskit means energy or life force (“qi” in Chinese); while “ayama” means to draw out or extend which implies technique or conscious breathing.
Feeding Our Body With Breath
Breathing not only feeds our body with life-sustaining oxygen but it also supplies us with life force / prana/ qi. When done properly and consciously, breathing infuses our whole body with this vital life force which becomes the life essence that makes us healthy, feel good and “alive”.
Breathing is also a form of meditation. As with meditation, proper conscious breathing relaxes and de-stresses us from the daily demands on our body, mind and emotions. Thus we become more balanced physically, mentally and emotionally. The ancients have also considered proper conscious breathing to be the path to higher spiritual awareness.
Optimizing Prana/Qi Intake
Compared with the yogic breathing, normal breathing from the lungs (where the upper chest expands out when you inhales and sinks in when you exhale) does not optimize prana/ qi intake as it is relatively shallow type of breathing. This sub-optimization of prana/ qi intake limits its ability to take us to higher levels of physical health, mental clarity, emotional control and spiritual awareness
Yogic breathing (also called abdominal or qigong breathing) is a form of conscious breathing which carries all the above-mentioned benefits. It is a technique of breathing from the abdomen instead of from the lungs
- You may either sit comfortably in a chair or on a mat or cushion on the floor of a room where you will not be disturbed. Relax your whole body. Close your eyes. The key is to pay attention to your breathing and ignore whatever thoughts that may pass through your mind. When you are distracted, come back to focusing on your breathing.
- Put your left open palm on your abdomen. Focus on the entire area from your lower abdomen up to your chest. Exhale all the air out from your abdomen and as you do so, you will feel your left palm move inward as your abdomen “deflates” like a balloon. Feel the air moving up from your abdomen, through your chest and out through your nose. Exhale as much air out as possible. Hold to the count of 3 seconds.
- Gently inhale. Feel the air moving in through your nose, down your chest and into your abdomen. Feel also your left open palm move outward in tandem with your abdomen as your abdomen “inflates” like a balloon when your inhalation fills it. Hold to the count of 3 seconds.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3.
- To end, gently and slowly open your eyes and smile a big smile!
You may practice for 10 minutes or for as long as 30 minutes. Practice until you are familiar with the technique. You know you are doing it correctly when your shoulders do not move up or down as you inhale and exhale. When your shoulders move, it shows you are breathing from your chest and not your abdomen.