The Breath – Our Life Force
How does the Breath Effect our Overall Health?
The breath is an integral part of our overall health and the most vital process of the body. The breath is our life force and influences the activities of each and every cell, and most importantly, is intimately linked with the performance of the brain. Breathing is generally an unconscious action of the body, controlled by the brain stem. Most of us are not aware of our breath, how we breathe and how the breath affects our body, our overall balance, our wellbeing and our mind. However, breathing is one of the few bodily functions which can be controlled consciously. The breath is the link between the conscious and the unconscious mind.
We take a breath approximately 17,000-30,000 times per day. Most people breathe incorrectly, using only a small part of their lung capacity. Their breathing is then generally shallow, depriving the body of oxygen and life force (prana) essential to good health. Abdominal breathing is the most natural and efficient way to breathe. Once this technique becomes part of daily life, you will notice a great improvement in the state of physical and mental wellbeing.
Pranayama is the conscious awareness of breath: the life force that both energises, balances and relaxes the body. The term is derived from the Sanskrit word, prana, meaning “life force,” and ayama, meaning “extension or control.” Pranayama is an integral part of yoga. The controlled breathing enables both the rhythm of performing yoga poses and relaxing the mind for meditation.
Firstly, it is important is to learn how to breathe correctly. I had a friend who used to stick post-it notes all around her apartment with the word, “Breathe” as a reminder to breathe correctly. Abdominal breathing is the most natural and efficient way to breathe. Once abdominal breathing becomes part of daily life, there is a great improvement in the state of physical and mental wellbeing.
Abdominal Breathing – Pranayama…is natural and easy to learn.
Lie on the floor or sit in a chair and relax completely. Feel the breath flow naturally in and out through the nostrils. Allow the breath to flow in through the nostrils and down to the abdomen. Notice the abdomen move upward on inhalation and downward on exhalation. You can place a hand on the abdomen to feel the correct movement.
As a yoga teacher, one Pranayama practice I include at the end of every class is Nadi Shodhana Pranayama or Alternate Nostril Breathing. The practice of Nadi Shodhana (purification of the nadis or energy channels) clears pranic blockages and balances all of our 72,000 nadis or energy channels in our body. Nadi Shodhana balances the whole body, induces tranquillity, clarity of thought and concentration. It increases vitality and lowers levels of stress and anxiety. It is a simple practice and takes only a few minutes and can be done daily.
It is best to seek out a good yoga class that includes Pranayama and Nadi Shodhana to learn how to do the practice correctly. It involves a hand mudra…the placement of the hand in a specific position and using a controlled breath through the nostrils.
Below are instructions on how to perform basic Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing).
Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) Practice
Sit in a comfortable position…spine upright, straight and relaxed. Bring the tip of the index finger and the tip of the thumb on the left hand together and place the left hand on the thigh either palm up (Chin Mudra) or down (Jnana Mudra). Concentrate on the normal abdominal breathing for a few minutes…slowly breathing down to the navel and back up.
- Lift the right hand, place the index finger and middle finger at the eyebrow centre (Pranayama Mudra).
- Close the right nostril gently with the thumb.
- Breathe in slowly, gently but deeply through the left nostril visualising the breath flowing through the eyebrow centre. Do not force the breath.
- Gently close the left nostril… open the right nostril and breathe out through the right.
- Keeping the left nostril gently closed breathe back in through the right nostril…closing the right nostril…opening the left.
- Bring the breath through the eyebrow centre and back out through the left. This is one round.
Repeat the round 5 – 7 times.
The Sanskrit word mudra is translated as ‘gesture’. Mudras are a combination of subtle physical movements which alter mood, attitude, and perception and deepen awareness and concentration.
URL link for a video and short instruction on Nadi Shodhana.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apLOi3y0iyA
URL link to an informative article on the breath and the link between the conscious and unconscious mind. http://www.thehealersjournal.com/2012/10/03/breath-is-the-link-between-the-conscious-and-unconscious-mind/