We see these words everywhere nowadays, on t-shirts and on bumper stickers, in
Instagram posts and as people’s Facebook motto’s, but what does it really mean and…
does it even work?
Yogis use the breath to anchor themselves in the present moment, to be more mindful and connected. They have been using this amazing tool for at least 3,000 years.
Have you noticed that our breath is a direct mirror of our internal state of mind? When we are agitated, the breath becomes shallow and rapid, while when we are at peace, the breath is fluid and easy.
What’s beautiful about this connection between mind and breath is that it is a two-way street. Our breath is affected by our mind, just as our breath can affect our mental state.
Steady your breath, and you will automatically steady your mind.
The first and second Sutras in the Yoga Sutras state:
1. Atha Yoganusasanam: Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.
2. Yogas citta vrtti nirodha: The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.
In other words, when we calm the mind, we can be more present.
The breath is the most accessible tool to calm the mind and be more present. In Yoga we call this “to practice Pranayama”.
However, Pranayama isn’t only about the breath. We say that our breath is the vehicle of
energy, because it also channels the Prana, our life force energy. Prana is what everything is made of, it runs through us and connects us all. It helps us calm, balance and heal our body and mind.
Thus, by practicing Pranayama, we reverse the process of becoming “depleted of energy” which over time leads to devitalization and ultimately disease. Pranayama brings our body and mind back into a place of balance and health.
How do we practice Pranayama?
First, we want to sit up straight to align the spine. By aligning the posture, the subtle energy channels (Nadis) start to clear, allowing the inner winds (Prana) to flow freely. In Pranayama we are manipulating (Ayama) the breath in order to move the Prana. Once the Prana is flowing, the mind naturally settles.
Then, we slow down to observe the breath. When we do this, our left side brain, which is
conceptual and analytical, starts to calm and we slowly shift into more subtle states of
How does Pranayama work?
The mind and the breath are intimately linked, because of the Autonomic Nervous System. It regulates certain body processes and is automatic, meaning it works without a person's conscious effort.
There are pathways between your brain and the rest of the body. Picture the branches of a tree, these branches steam from your brain, go down the spine, and spread out to all parts of our body. Together they represent the Central Nervous System. To put it simply, when the body is in a state of stress, it changes the breath, and puts us in the Fight or Flight mode, so that we can fight or flee the perceived threat. These changes to the breath are unconscious. However, the breath itself can be unconscious or conscious.
When we are in a state of stress, this is the key.
Since we can consciously change the breath, we can use it to affect the Nervous System in the reverse order, along these pathways (branches) of the Nervous System.
Lastly, the Autonomic Nervous System regulates our body by releasing hormones. A great example is when we take deep breaths: this triggers the heart rate to slow to match the rate of our breathing. When this happens, the brain releases endorphins, a ‘feel good’ hormone that has a naturally calming effect on our body and mind.
There are many beneficial Pranayama practices. One of the simplest forms is natural breath awareness. It increases our mental focus and witness consciousness.
Start by sitting or lying in a comfortable position with a straight spine and gently turn your
attention to the breath. There are many aspects one can bring awareness to:
The inhalation and the exhalation
The pauses between the two, at the top, respectively bottom of the breath
The sensations of coolness on the inhale or warmth on the exhale
The movement of the belly, chest and back in the rhythm of the breath
The flow of the breath through the nose, back of the mouth, throat, trachea and
bronchial tubes, lungs, diaphragm, abdomen
You can do this natural breathing practice anytime and anywhere to access the present
moment… How amazing is that? Try it the next time you feel disconnected, when your mind is busy or when you are too much ‘in your head.’
These ancient practices are proven by science to work. They are powerful and accessible. So, just breathe to return to the now, to be more present.
The effects are profound, give it a shot. What do you have to lose, other than the crazy busy mind?