Pranayama: Yogic Breathing

How your breathing can improve your health.

When you find yourself speeding up and stressing out, pause… and take a deep breath. Then take a couple more.

By Adinath Chowdhury

Adinath Chowdhury

 By fully focusing on each breath, you bring yourself back to the present, and slow yourself down. Soon you will find that your stress levels have started to diminish.

This is an era of over-booked schedules, high stimulation, fast food and sound bites. Life has become increasingly fast, busy and demanding. Trends are changing more rapidly, and we are constantly under pressure to keep up with the latest styles. At any one time, we are juggling to balance a job, the household, our health, and a myriad other tugs on our time and energy.

While our mind reels with managing all these demands, stress materializes. Today we find that stress is fast becoming an integral part of life, often leading to anxiety and depression. It becomes a struggle to sleep at night, relationships may falter, self-confidence plummets, and our health suffers dangerously. But while our world is undoubtedly a very stressful place, learning to manage and recover from stress is not an impossible task. Physical exercise and relaxation do go a long way to redress the balance, but our minds too require attention. After all, relaxed and happy people are healthier and maintain a better quality of life than the stressed and miserable ones!

Learn to Breathe the Yogic Way

The first step in learning to relax from the pressures of day-to-day life is to become more aware of your breathing rhythms. You will soon note that your breathing rhythm is very closely linked to your state of mind—when calm, your breath is steady, and when disturbed, it becomes disjointed. So to control your emotions, there is much to gain
from learning to breathe rhythmically.

Breathing the ‘yogic way’ is in fact the first step towards achieving personal harmony. While we typically leave everyday breathing to the unconscious mind and the body’s automatic reflexes, yogic breathing endeavours to bring the whole breathing system under conscious control. We do it by becoming aware of the body mechanisms involved in breathing, and deliberately modifying the rhythm and force of our breath.

The Complete Yogic Breath

The simplest of the yogic breathing exercises is the Complete Breath (and should not be confused with a deep breath). A Complete Breath involves all the stale air being forced out of your lungs before fresh air is draw in, and the whole of your torso being freed to participate in the breath. When we take a Complete Breath, it is the diaphragm—a sheet of muscles that separates the chest from the abdomen—that helps us through the process. The diaphragm contracts and moves down, and the entire ribcage expands outwards and upwards as air rushes in to expand the lower, middle and upper parts of the lungs. The diaphragm then relaxes and rises, expelling carbon dioxide from the lungs as the ribcage contracts downwards.

It is best to begin practicing the Complete Breath by lying on your back with your knees bent—that way you can really feel what is happening to your ribs and diaphragm when you breathe. Later, once you understand the technique, Complete Breaths can be practiced sitting or standing too, and you will be able to take a few Complete Breaths at any time and almost anywhere it suits you.

The truth is: the rhythm and the depth of your breath directly affect the state of your mind and the health of your body. Once you have started understanding and relating to your breaths, you are ready to move a step further on the Energy Route, harnessing the most effective ways of awakening, stimulating, balancing and soothing the energy force within the body and mind. Complete Breathing feeds the brain, calms the nerves and has a measurable effect on a number of medical conditions. As an old Yogic proverb aptly puts it: “Life is in the Breath. Therefore he who only half breathes, half-lives”.

Adinath Chowdhury is a qualified physiotherapist and pilates instructor. He is also certified in sports medicine. He teaches yoga, pilates and breathing techniques at Real Yoga, Singapore.