The Yoga of the Breath

How long could you survive without eating?  What about drinking?  How long could you go without breathing?

Respiration is probably the most important source of nourishment we receive and one of the most under recognized or utilized. Is it possible that, by modifying our breathing pattern, we can dramatically increase or health in the same way that changing our diet or environment influences our state of well being?  The short answer, absolutely.

In no other form of activity is there a greater emphasis placed on the breath than in yoga.  Not only to the postures bring tone and flexibility to the body, but also increase the elasticity of the rib cage, remove congestion from the diaphragm and increase the supply of oxygenated blood to targeted regions of the body.

This increased circulation nourishes specific organ systems, depending on where the pressure in the pose is or is not being applied.  For example, in doing an inverted posture such as headstand, the brain is saturated with increased circulation and oxygen, thereby increasing mental alertness and clarity.  This same principle can be applies to all of the other postures, each with their distinct attributes and effects.

I once worked with Jenny, a lung cancer survivor, who, after four rounds of chemo-therapy, some deep soul searching and 3-4 yoga classes reported a measured increase her breathing capacity by 15-20%. What’s more, she discovered a means by which she could begin to reinhabit and trust her body again.

There are many, many yogic techniques that pattern the breath in specific ways that are conducive to increased vitality and equanimity. As a simple experiment I invite you to sit up strait, breath evenly through both nostrils and ever so slightly begin to extend the length of your exhalation, at a comfortable and sustainable rate.  Do this for a couple of minutes, release the breath from any modification and notice the effect.  Often the solutions to our problems are lying right beneath our nose, in this case, quite literally.