Yoga A-Z B for Breath

It had to be Breath for 'B'. In common with most yoga teachers I talk about the breath and breathing a lot; in fact breath will get a mention (or several) in every single class I teach. It's an ancient quotation that best explains why. The following is from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written in the 15th century:

" When the breath wanders, the mind is also unsteady. But, when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath."

A more western approach is encompassed in this quotation from Donna Farhi from her book called 'The Breathing Book':

"Breathing affects your respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular and psychic systems, and also has a general affect on your sleep, memory, ability to concentrate, and your energy levels."

We know that controlling the breath can act as a shortcut to switching on the parasympathetic nervous system, like pressing the reset button on our mind and body to allow us to escape from the flight, fight or freeze response. More than that the breath fuels our body enabling us to move with more ease and grace. Try jumping holding your breath and then try doing the same jump inhaling as you do so and the effect is obvious.

In yoga we call the various breathing techniques Pranayama, Prana being the Sanskrit word for life force or energy and Ayama meaning extension or control. In weekly yoga classes we tend to keep to the simple, tried and trusted techniques like keeping the inhale and exhale the same length or employing a basic ration of counting the length of the inhale, the pause after the inhale, the exhale and the pause after the exhale, but there are many types of Pranayama There are 8 common types, but a huge number more exist, some coming under what are known as Kriyas, Sanskrit for cleansing techniques.

So much, so simple and yet like many things in life we are capable of forgetting to use this fantastic resource that is always there for us. Better yet, whilst breaking out a yoga pose or two outside of a yoga studio or one's own home might raise an eyebrow (or might not of course!) the breathing techniques we learn can be used literally everyday. Deep even breathing to calm us when stressed out by traffic, helping us take that moment to think before replying to a comment that has triggered something for us, enabling us to feel OK about an appointment at the dentist, dealing with fear, grief and countless other common situations are improved and the stress and strain on our bodies and minds limited when we use our breath.