“The way we breathe is a metaphor for how we live and engage the world around us. By restricting the flow of breath, we unknowingly close down to an ecstatic stream of life-force energy that naturally wants to flow through us. To breathe completely is to allow the fullness of life in this moment, in dynamic engagement with what is.”
- Kaya Leigh (Founder of Sacred Breath Academy)
Conscious breathing is what creates the deep mind-body connection that makes yoga so beneficial for calming the mind and understanding the self at the deepest level. Have you taken time to consider how you are breathing day to day? Are you breathing deeply? Are you breathing with opening and expansion and receiving and feeling? Or are you constricted, shut off, disjointed?
In the eight limb pathway in yoga philosophy, the fourth limb is solely dedicated to breath or pranayama. Prana refers to ‘energy’ or ‘life source’. It is used to describe the very essence that keeps us alive, as well as the energy of the universe around us. Most often it describes the breath and how working with different breath techniques through our asana, meditation and pranayama practices, can affect the mind and body.
Senior yoga teacher trainer and author of Yoga: A Manual for Life, Naomi Annand explains,
“Bringing your total focus to your breath isn’t part of the practice. It is the practice. It is only when your awareness and breath are yoked together that you start to be able to experience your body through your breath, instead of through the thinking, judging part of the brain”.
Within the yoga world, there are many different types of pranayama practices that can be used for different timings, situations, moods, energies, and emotions by using various techniques such a deep belly breathing/ expansion of breath in different parts of the body, free flow breathing, counting the breath, using alternate nostrils, using the nostril and the mouth and also restraint of the breath or holding the breath at certain points of the practice.
Many ways of breathing can change our state of being, but it is commonly known that there is nothing more essential to our health and wellbeing than inhaling and exhaling.
One of the most common pranayama techniques referenced through asana practice is the Ujjayi breathing. This breathing technique is meant to be practiced harmoniously with asana and is a soft, whispering breath which has also been referenced as ocean breath and victorious breath. This technique, over time, has been re-enforced to become stronger and more audible during practices in our modern yoga classes. Forcing our breath as we practice can manipulate our intention to move naturally into a meditative state therefore keeping us present in the ego.
Although the Ujjayi breath has many benefits if practiced harmoniously and effortlessly with our asana, it can still be beneficial to get out of the ego and consciously breathe within your own breath cycle in a flow. A lot of the time, letting go of control is exactly what we need.
A vast majority of the yoga breathing techniques work with a nose inhale instead of the mouth. Kaya Leigh from Sacred Breath Academy has published a case study on their blog with detailed information of the benefits and comparisons of Nose Inhale to Mouth Inhale. You can see a few comparisons below and read more about the importance of this on their blog - here.
Awareness of breathing in the modern world and western culture was rarely commercially talked about or practiced until more recently with the rise of yoga, meditation, breathwork and breathing masters such as Wim Hof, James Nestor and Richie Bostock.
The Eastern cultures, however, have been celebrating and honouring the beauty of our ‘life source’ and ‘energy’ for thousands of years.
Founder of the Mind-Body Medical Institute in Massachusetts, Dr Herbert Benson has worked for decades to build awareness of Mind-Body Medicine to bridge the gap between Western and Eastern medical practices and validate it through research. He is also known infamously for his book and method ‘The Relaxation Response’ which focuses on moving out of the sympathetic nervous system, fight and flight mode, by slowing your breathing rate, relaxing muscles and reducing blood pressure to help counteract the toxic effects of chronic stress.
James Nestor, author of ‘Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art’, traveled the world to research the importance of our breath and what impact it can have on our day to day wellbeing and health. And most importantly, how we subconsciously are becoming lazy in how we use our breath each day. A review that registered deeply with many of us is one by Dr Steven Y. Park, Albert Einstein College of Medicine (and author of Sleep, Interrupted) who said - “An eye-opening, epic journey of human devolution that explains why so many of us are sick and tired. A MUST-READ book that exposes what our healthcare system doesn’t see”.
This month, we aim to take you through many yogic breathing techniques for you to include in your practice, but we do really recommend reading through James' book as he outlines the power of our breath and how utterly fascinating our breath journey really is.
Modern research highlights how breathing correctly can vastly improve illnesses such as asthma and auto-immune diseases, cancer, athletic performance, snoring improvements and much more. Check out the monthly Soul Sanctuary schedule below including all of this month's new practices plus additional Soul Sanctuary practices in alignment with this month's theme.
Just like your thoughts, feelings and emotions, your breath is intimate to you. It is something that only YOU have control over and, if you can learn ways in which to tune in and master your breath, you can find true peace and freedom within yourself.
“The breath knows how to go deeper than the mind” - Wim Hof