The breath is our most valuable asset in our yoga practice and in our lives. All day long we are being breathed, without any real consciousness, or thought. So why should we bring more awareness to the way we breathe?
From a physiological standpoint breathing fuels our body to function. Deep belly breathing is giving your body the most fuel and releasing the most “exhaust” possible. The body functions on oxygen and carbon dioxide, when we breathe from the belly we are allowing more oxygen to be taken in and more carbon dioxide to be released. Our bodies are happy and balanced.
When we breath shallowly, (chest breathing), we are not allowing the maximum intake and outtake of air. We’ve all probably heard the analogy that life is a journey, and our body the vehicle through which we travel, let’s look at it a little more literally, involving shallow breathing. If your body is the vehicle and you are shallow breathing, it’s as if you are blocking the fuel input and output to your vehicle. This requires all of the “parts” (organs, organ systems, muscles, etc.) to work harder just to function at a normal level. It is no wonder that so many people suffer from fatigue, lack of energy, and overall lack of zest for life. Our bodies are struggling to keep up with the lack of fuel we are providing them daily, with each shallow breath in and shallow breath out.
We also have to consider breathing and the nervous system. When we breathe shallowly, and/or rapidly, or hold the breath we engage the sympathetic nervous system, our “fight or flight” response. This is an amazing function of our nervous system, pumping adrenaline through our body and elevating the heart rate, it was and is ultimately intended to be a tool for survival.
The dilemma is that most of us are so overworked, overstressed, under-rested, and under-breathed, that our sympathetic nervous systems are getting called into action for very simple events and happenings that don’t really require the body mind to sound the alarm. Running late, stuck in traffic, practicing a difficult yoga pose, or having a difficult conversation are all instances where we may breathe shallowly and/or rapidly, and/or hold the breath. Although frustrating, a giant pain in the arse, and sometimes challenging, these instances should not send the body into fight or flight mode.
Even, deep belly breathing is essential to maintaining a healthy nervous system. Deep belly breathing engages the para-sympathetic nervous system, our “relax and restore” response. All body functions slip into a healthy, balanced, and supportive relationship with each other, ensuring relaxation and restoration in the body mind.
From a holistic point of view, a lot of our health concerns these days are caused by stress; depression, insomnia, and anxiety issues to name a few. I would say even most of our unhealthy vices and habits stem from stress, like over-eating, drinking excessively, and smoking. Most of us are guilty of not breathing deeply and not receiving enough support (through the breath). Perhaps we are looking to fill a void from an external source, one that may not serve our highest self when we could fill ourselves from the infinite well of creativity, love, and peace that deep belly breathing facilitates.
I am not a doctor, just a humble yogi, exploring my breath, and body on the mat and off. I am both the scientist and the lab rat when it comes to my views and experiences. I challenge you to be aware of how you breathe. Are you breathing through the nose or mouth? From the belly or chest? Is your breath steady or choppy? Do you hold your breath when you are scared, or frustrated? Get the information, then start experimenting and see the very real shifts that may start to happen. It’s profound.
The breath is our most valuable asset to create and maintain balance in the body and in the mind. We can begin to change the way we deal with the stresses of our lives by changing the way we breathe. We can begin to change the way our bodies function by changing the way we breathe. We can begin to change the overall quality of our lives by changing the way we breathe. We can begin to be full from the inside, drawing on ourselves as the source for energy that fuels our creativity, passion and shining. Once we realize the power that the breath holds, the power that ultimately we hold, the possibilities are limitless.
Breathe in, breathe out, repeat, enjoy.