The Benefits of Breath Control
The breath is a reflection of our mental state and vice
versa, yet often this connection goes unnoticed, even when it is ruling our
behavior. If you have ever realized that you were holding your breath then
taken a few full breaths, you may know the feeling of softening places you
weren’t even aware were becoming tense. The connection between our breath,
body, and mind is beautiful, fierce, fragile, and sometimes less under our
control than we would like to believe.
Have you ever noticed that becoming aware of your breath
almost instantly begins to change it? Attempting to simply observe the breath
can be as challenging as practicing breathing exercises that intentionally
alter it. Even with the clear and calm state of mind we attempt to cultivate in
order to practice pranayama, these practices are challenging. Now imagine
having no control over your breath. You can’t take a full breath in or out, you
can’t slow the breath down, or you can’t stop coughing long enough to really
breathe. While many of us are fortunate to not experience asthma, panic
attacks, or hyperventilation, these phenomena illustrate how tenuous our
connection to breath can be.
Even if you aren’t prone to these conditions, you have most
likely experienced breath-related fear at some point, perhaps due to choking
while swimming, eating or drinking. Even the most experienced practitioner of
meditation and/or pranayama may find themselves panicking in these situations. Yet,
as one yogini and mother of a child with asthma recently wrote, the more
you panic about not being able to breathe, the harder it is to breathe.
This cycle can be hard to stop once it begins; the best prevention is to become
mindfully aware of the breath and to practice slowing the breath before a
Try out some different breathing exercises. See how they
make you feel after. Do you feel calm or slightly more agitated? When you find
one that leaves you feeling calm, memorize it. Practice it enough that when you
need it, switching into it is easy and natural, not another source of stress.
Mindful, active breathing is not something we only practice
in yoga class, and awareness of it shouldn’t be either. We share a world that
sometimes seems to be continually moving faster and getting crazier. Donna
Fahri, author of The Breathing Book
notes, “the process of breathing is the most accurate metaphor we
have for the way that we personally approach life, how we live our lives, and
how we react to the inevitable changes that life brings us.” Even if you
are in perfect health and have enjoyed a long life of trouble free breathing,
remember to breathe consciously from time to time. You never know when you may
need it, or what unexpected tension you may release in the meantime!
How do you use the breath in your daily life or to help you
in stressful situations?