by Laura McCorry
When was the last time you consciously breathed? Was it the last time you went to yoga class? Even though pranayama (breath control) is one of the eight limbs of yoga and essential to life, yogis and individuals still need to be reminded to consciously breathe.
Nothing worries me more as a yoga teacher than to have a room full of students in the middle of practice and hearing nothing. One of the most powerful commands I’ve ever heard from a fellow teacher was in the middle of a long hold in Warrior II when she said “Breathe. Smile.” That was it. Those were her alignment cues and the whole room re-animated. People came back into the present moment with heightened awareness and back into the experience of being in their bodies.
Of course respiration will happen naturally whether or not you consciously tell yourself to breathe – which is awesome, right? Phew! Thank goodness we don’t have to add that to our to-do list. (Wake up, breath in, get out of bed, breath out, walk to the bathroom, breath in – how exhausting that would be!)
However, unlike other natural rhythms in the body such as the heartbeat, over which we have limited control, the breath is an amazing tool we can use to maximize well-being. Yogic tradition teaches us that breath control is an essential component for meditation and the first step towards enlightenment. Any time you take a deep breath to stave off reacting negatively to stimuli you know the great power it wields.
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathing consciously has more immediate physical effects too – more oxygen is incorporated into the blood stream which results in better circulation and works to lower stress. You may think you’re going to yoga to sweat and stretch and exercise the body and those are wonderful benefits of the practice – but that euphoric feeling of clear-headed wellbeing at the end of class? The quality and expansiveness of your breath played a major role in getting you there.
Perhaps the biggest benefit yoga has to offer is not muscle strength or flexibility, but simply providing you with an hour or more of directed breathing!
Now take a deep breath and slowly let it go. I bet you feel better already!
Yoga and Laura had an on-again-off-again relationship from 2004 until 2009 when they decided to move in together and there’s been no looking back since. Passionate about both yoga and writing, Laura loves to introduce others to the joys and benefits of yoga and healthy living.