18 Jan The Breathe of Life
The breath is a precious gift that we tend to forget that even happens and in the most part we are unconscious about as we go about our daily lives.
The breath is the only thing that all 8 billion human beings on the planet have in common and the only thing that separates us is the border within which our heart and soul resides, our physical body.
The ancient rishis (Yogi’s who purified their body/minds and directly experienced the fundamental forces of creation) experienced the underlying unity of all cycles as the breath of Brahma and thus believed the breath is a sacred gift from the Universe. We can contemplate the universe as a living, breathing and conscious being- some may call God, Energy, Universal Life Force Energy or Divine Light.
But why is the breath so important for the yogis in the practice of yoga and connecting to a deeper space within?
The breath is directly related to the mind. So by becoming aware of and tuning in to the breath we are able to directly access and calm the mind, accessing deeper levels of stillness within our-selves. As we start to still the mind, moving from a state of doing to being, we can start observing our mental activities; turning our attention towards, tuning in and starting to recognize the habitual patterns we have built up and continuously reinforce, the most part of which we do unconsciously in the background.
When I am teaching I like to ask my students to observe the breath. As it enters the body, observing how the parts of the body respond. Being conscious of the inhale and exhale. With the exhale, releasing and letting go of anything unnecessary that we are holding onto. Emotional, mental and physical “tensions” of sorts. On the inhale, inviting the breath to meet the various parts of the body and to access deeper spaces within the body; using the intention to direct the breath to where we feel tension or stagnant energy. Using the breath intelligently. I will speak about some of the breath awareness techniques in a future post.
For now what fascinates me is the “mechanics of breathing” as a gift from the universe, as experienced by ancient rishis….
Have you ever noticed on the weather channel, air pressure moves from high to low / positive to negative…this movement of positive to negative is illustrated by Boyle’s law:
Boyle’s law is often used as part of an explanation on how the breathing system works in the human body. “This commonly involves explaining how the lung volume may be increased or decreased and thereby cause a relatively lower or higher air pressure within them (in keeping with Boyle’s law). This forms a pressure difference between the air inside the lungs and the environmental air pressure, which in turn precipitates either inhalation or exhalation as air moves from high to low pressure.”
The thoracic cavity (chest area) holds a negative value/pressure. The atmosphere around us holds a positive value/pressure. Meaning breathe/Prana/air is moving from the atmosphere into our thorax naturally as a result of the movement of air from positive to negative pressure. As such, we can say, the breath is indeed given to us by the universe, rather than something that is mechanically done as a matter of clinging onto survival.
Take a few conscious breaths and contemplate that for a moment. Wooooooooooooow!!!
Quite a beautiful and powerful notion when you think about the fact that we don’t stop breathing from the moment we are born to the moment we leave our bodies. Each breath is a gift! As with any gift, how we take it and appreciate is what matters.
Due to biological and sociological conditionings, we have built up a stream of patterns and through habit continuously reinforce the same patters and lose awareness and insight of the way things are. Meaning that breathing becomes a mechanical process as a result of repeated reinforced patterns. As such, we forget to receive the full expression of breathe from the universe and how to intelligently harness the breathe to its full capacity. The physical practice of Ashtanga yoga can be seen as a direct tool or method in which we can work with the breath by allowing ourselves to surrender. As physical as it may appear, the practice is purely breathe work to access deeper states, from physical to subtle, and experiencing the full range in-between – The journey
The practice has become a daily ritual and tool in my life in which I can continuously reflect on habitual patterns and create space. Release tension and move towards a state of surrendering (which, for most of us can be pretty hard), and learning to unwire habitual expressions and re connect to that which is – moving skillfully from state to state, moment to moment,, breathe by breath – from doing to being.
So if Ashtanga yoga is purely breathe work, what does mastery of an asana mean in relation to breath?
Dissolving in the breath and becoming the breath. Being fully present, acutely aware and in that lasting moment, abiding in the pure nature and beauty of breath … Or at least this is a relative idea and something that of course I have not accomplished in any way, but rather direct my energy and focus towards as I continue to reflect on my path and journey in the practice as a student and scientific investigator of body and mind. Which in a sense we all are, as a practitioner of Ashtanga yoga; A scientific investigator discovering the many depths and states of consciousness, peeling back the layers of conditioning and observing the journey towards seeking truth within.
We can however manipulate the breath to help dispel toxins and carbon dioxide and increase the lung capacity to allow more air to enter the body. By dispelling old air from the body, and inviting fresh oxygen to enter the lungs, the oxygen moves into deeper spaces of the blood stream and organs to function better. In yoga, we also use pranayama practices where the breath is manipulated and controlled so that we can use it to increase lung capacity, increasing life force and activate healing & rejuvenation at a deeper level.
Imagine a tortoise that lives 100 of years, the rate of breathing for a tortoise is very slow paced. They can’t swim but thy can hold their breath for a very long time. Compared with a dog or cat that breathes much quicker, and tends to have a much shorter life span.
Quite simply put, as yoga practitioners, we breathe deep and at an even pace, allowing our lungs to expand, the back as well as the font. In most part, we rarely are conscious of the back of our bodies and only breathe towards the front part of the lungs and chest. By breathing fully, also towards the back of the heart and lungs, we allow a fuller capacity of oxygen to enter, aiding stagnant air and carbon dioxide to be released Rather than stale energy being stuck in the body and carbonic acid building as a result of build up over time.
Unconsciously, breathing is controlled by specialized centers in the brainstem, which automatically regulates the rate and depth of breathing depending on the body’s needs at any time. When carbon dioxide levels increase in the blood, it reacts with the water in blood, producing carbonic acid. Hence why breathing consciously in yogic practices is fundamental and an important process of eliminating toxins, acid as well as tension, anxiety, stress and anything that you are holding onto emotionally and mentally.
A large dome shaped muscle under the lungs, called the diaphragm, aids the breathing process. When you exhale the diaphragm moves up and massages the lungs and the hart. When you inhale the diaphragm moves down giving space to the lungs and also opening working the intercostal muscles – the secondary muscles used in breathing which are the ones in-between your ribs. As we work on breathing into the side of the ribs and back of the heart/lung area, we start to bring a bigger range of movement and flexibility to our ribs giving us more space for breathing at a larger capacity.
In the next article we will go deeper into the difference between diaphragmatic breathing and chest breathing and give simple tools to become aware of our current habitual patterns so we can start to work on breathing naturally and free – harnessing the breath to its full capacity for health, healing and rejuvenation.