We stop breathing – we cease to exist – no surprise with that one! It may be surprising to learn just how important the way you breathe is to your wellbeing and performance.
Physically breathing in, oxygenates the body, and breathing out removes carbon dioxide from the body. This process goes on automatically without our conscious control – day and night, 24/7.
It’s not just the mechanical physical exchange of gases that is important…
What most people don’t realise is the importance beyond this basic function and the effect that poor breathing has on our health – when we are using only part of our lung capacity.
Taking conscious control of our breathing and making sure that it is deep and rhythmical has many physical benefits – the obvious one of increasing the amount of oxygen into the cells, which increases all-around performance. (Interestingly sugar feeds cancer cells and oxygen kills them).
Very important, breathing also has a profound effect on the mind – it stills and quietens the mind. If unchecked most people’s minds run an incessant dialogue of ‘to do’ lists, worries, fears and often limiting beliefs. Basically, the majority of people are running a stress programme in their minds the majority of the time – as a result, our breathing becomes shallow and faster as the body is preparing for what it thinks as conflict.
Our long-term stresses e.g. job dissatisfaction, relationship disharmony etc., are altering our breathing pattern long term and so affecting our body chemistry in a negative way. The classic ‘fight or flight mechanism’ means the body diverts energy (and blood flow) away from the digestive system and other vital organs, and redirects it to the muscles so we are able to react to the stressful situation.
In yoga the breath equates to ‘prana’, the life-force energy that is the fabric of the Universe – some may call it the Universal ‘God’ Force energy…if you’re a Star Wars fan…it’s ‘The Force’! It’s an energy that pervades all life and when harnessed within ourselves is a powerful transformational energy.
It helps creative inspirational (inspire – an alternative word for breathing in) ideas to flow to us and for us to be calm and see the bigger picture in stressful situations.
“The breath is the bridge between the body and the spirit”
When you feel good and relaxed, you will often find yourself having a large gusty inhalation which is often accompanied by the words “Arrr yes!” Conversely, when we are sad or fed up, we tend to have long exhalations – a sigh. We actually say things like “I’m feeling really deflated” – it’s as if there is a lack of life/spark/zest inside of us.
Focusing on your breathing pattern (and there are many good simple techniques) not only quietens the mind and brings an amazing sense of peace mentally and emotionally but also helps bring our physical body back into balance.
In yoga there is no separation between the mind, body and spirit, you can not affect one without affecting the other. The breath – the ‘winds of the Universe’ that blow through us has the ability to heal or to destroy… to expand or deflate us.
So, every day spend a few minutes (several times a day if you can) just being aware of your breathing pattern – close your eyes, imagine your breath filling the bottom of your lungs, let your rib cage and your abdomen expand…image your breath rhythmically flowing softly into, and out of your body. Simple to do and a fundamental practice to achieve great health and happiness.