Breathing is the only bodily function over which we have conscious control.
Our hearts beat, blood flows, digestive processes function, endocrine and hormonal processes all take place unconsciously, without the option for human intervention. We are totally unaware of these things going on in our bodies, until something goes wrong.
The breath is different.
We have full and total control over our breathing. We are able to be conscious of every single breath entering and leaving our bodies, and we can choose how quickly or slowly this happens. If our breath is threatened by perhaps a smoky environment or falling into the water, we can choose to hold our breath to protect ourselves or perhaps even save our lives. And we are able to exercise the muscles that control the breathing to xtend the period for which we can hold our breaths.
This makes the vital function of the breath a hugely powerful tool to help us live in our bodies with ease.
The Sanskrit name for breathing exercises in yoga is Pranayama – Prāṇāyāma (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the prāṇa or breath” or “extension of the life force”. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words: prana, life force, or vital energy, (noted particularly as the breath), and ayāma, to extend or draw out.
“Prana” is defined as our life force = literally, the breath is what keeps us alive and makes us vital. “Yama” is the action of moving or extending the life force, working with it’s energy and applying it in the body.
In every yoga class, there will always be many references to the breath. The in-breath energises, the out-breath releases. The in-breath brings oxygen and nourishes the body, the out-breath releases CO and other toxins, cleansing trhe body and preparing it for the renewal for the next in-breath.
If there is only one thing any student learns from his or her yoga practice, it should be the ability to breathe in and out smoothly and easily. Once the breath is mastered, everything else will come. Until the breath is mastered, the mind will be busy and the body resistant.
Are you breathing now? Take a deep breath in for 5 counts and release it very slowly for 8 counts. Do this 3 times and see if you feel any differently. Keep doing this all day, and you are likely to stay alive and healthy for a very long time