Why are yoga and meditation people always on about breathing?
“We already breathe” I hear people say, so why all the fuss?
Firstly, the breath is a wonderful tool for minding our mind; and secondly, a breath-based yoga practice positively impacts our psychophysiology (the relationship between our mind and body), and supports our optimal health.
The Breath and Mindfulness
The first impact of a breath-centered yoga practice is that it brings us to the present moment. The breath is a vital life function that is with us day and night. It changes subtly from minute to minute and naturally captures the attention of the mind.
Breathing in and out, with your attention on your breath and movement… all the chatter in the mind begins to disappear. The worries of the day fade away and you begin to feel stable and calm in both body and mind. Over time you naturally bring more mindfulness into your daily life, and feel steadier in yourself. You begin to meet the world each day with more clarity and compassion, both for yourself and with those around you.
Of course we are not Buddha and we can’t stay in this state 24/7. But over time, you’ll notice that when you’re feeling particularly agitated you will start to ‘mind your mind’. You’ll begin to pause, take a few breaths and an appropriate length of time before you act (or not act as the case may be!).
(I’ll discuss more of the tools of yoga, and the surprisingly relevant age-old yoga philosophy that supports this path to mental and emotional clarity in future posts).
The Breath and Optimal Health
Yoga is rooted in tradition and science. The practice supports optimal health, including mental steadiness.
It is ultimately about self care.
Through yoga therapy training I’ve learnt that:
- Retraining the body and mind through a breath based yoga practice is fundamental, as the physiology of breathing affects the nervous system and all the other systems in the body.
- Both agitation and calmness of the mind are reflected in the breath. Connecting to the sensation of the breath and modulating it through the yoga practice calms the mind. An appropriate breath-centered practice is a wonderful tool when feeling a little stressed, anxious or unsteady.
- And, interestingly the physiology of our spine affects our thinking. The nervous system in fact starts at the tips of our fingers and goes through our spine to our brain. Consequently, doing an asana (in Sanskrit ‘asana’ refers to postures) practice before meditation, means that we come to the seated practices with a less disrupted mind. (Dr. Ganesh Mohan, Svastha Yoga and Ayurveda)
A breath based yoga practice is integral, as the breath is the foundational link between body and mind.
It takes a while for our conditioned Western minds to stop the habitual round and round thinking that goes on in our heads of past and future scenarios, but that’s what yoga is all about.… bringing us to the present moment, and out of the habitual flux of thoughts, towards a healthier and more balanced life.