The breath is a vital link to how we as humans feel. Have you ever taken a deep breath when you were stressed, angry, needed to calm your emotions or to get through pain? If so, you have at least an intuitive understanding of how energy is linked with breath.
Breathing is vital to living. Without breathing we simply die. But is there more to the breath than just keeping us alive? The yogis believe there to be much more than to the breath than just an ordinary, everyday process.
Yogis understand the human to be a multi-dimensional being beyond body and mind. We see the body as much more than the physical and tangible aspects. We are multi-layered and each of those layers addresses an aspect of how we interact with the world. We call these layers the koshas. (For a nice review of the koshas please see the article “Its all good”.)
In the West we say that there is a body-mind connection. But what is it that connects them? The yogis understand this connection well and know it to be the energy body or pranamaya kosha. Energy, while less tangible than the physical body and even the thoughts in our minds, is real. It is what we get from food that then moves our bodies. Energy lights our world with electricity. We feel energy shifts within our body and minds: some days we feel vital and ready for anything, other days we are lethargic and find everything a challenge.
The breath is one of the links we have to our energy. If you’ve taken a yoga class before, then you have a sense of how energy effects the body and mind through the breath. When we slow down the breath, the mind begins to relax as does the body. When the body needs more energy we take deeper, longer breaths. If we want to clear out something from the mind, we can facilitate this with a big cleansing exhale.
In yoga we call this vital energy prana. It is closely linked to our breathing, bringing in oxygen the body needs to maintain itself and releasing the waste product of CO2. Swami Rama in his book, Science of Breath, states: “With each breath, energy flows through the body in waves, constantly shaping and restructuring the pattern of energy which comprises the pranic body.”
Breathing is something very special – far more than an ordinary everyday process. It is the only physiological process in our bodies that can be either voluntary or involuntary. Thankfully, the breath takes care of us even when we aren’t thinking about it. Yet, when we bring conscious awareness to it, we have the ability to reintegrate the power of the breath into our every day lives. Through the regular practice of breath awareness and breathing exercises (pranayamas), we “open our inner awareness to the very energy that gives us life and shapes our being.” (Swami Rama)
The more consciousnesses we bring to our breath, purposefully directing it and turning it into a useful ally, we begin to feel more harmony, happiness and see improvements in our overall health.