Breath:The Link Between Mind and Body
I started my yoga practice in the beginning of 2016 as a result of the "new year, new me" motto. I also needed something to support me as I began to deal with the reality of being a recent graduate. I wanted something to change, and like many health journeys, my focus became about how I was going to look and nothing beyond that. However, when I attended my first Bikram Yoga class:
Bikram Yoga is a type of hatha yoga, practiced in a hot room of 105 degrees and 40% humidity, the class runs for 90 minutes with 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises.
The focus on my body and outside stresses quickly became giving all my attention to my breath (so I wouldn't pass out). I had to establish a connection, gain control of my breath, and find calm in my environment. Once I concentrated on my breath my distractions went away, yet I was energized, aware of my breath, and alert in my mind.
One way yogis engage both the mind and the breath is through pranayama breathing exercises. Yogi's practice Pranayama as a response to the gunk and cloudiness that can encompass the mind as well as prepare the mind for deep meditation. Pranayama is rooted in two Sanskrit words: "prana" and "ayama". Ayama translates into "stretch", describing the action, the intent of pranayama. The late T. K. V. Desikachar describes prana as "something that continuously flows from somewhere inside us, filling us and keeping us alive: it is vitality." Our life force, streaming out from inside of the body. The two words combined mean expanding or controlling the breath.
Prana, the life energy, exists inside and beyond the body. Prana inside the body, is the energy we utilize in our daily lives. The goal is to keep more prana in the body, than outside the body. When there is a deficit of prana in the body, illness enters, and when there is ample amount of prana in the body, the entire body is in optimal health. The practice of pranayama increases the amount of prana within the body to prepare the mind for a state of meditation; the more prana within, the more the mind is calm and rested. Pranayama is the awareness of the breath: inhalation, exhalation, and the pauses. Additionally, prana flows in the body, is the force that powers exhalation. Yet, it is important to understand that prana is transformed in the body becoming the energy or powers, that play an integral part in the processes that ensure that we rid ourselves of what no longer need.
"It is the power of prana that can free the mind from blocks and thereby lead us to greater clarity. The out-breath fulfills this function: it releases what is superfluous and removes what would otherwise become blocks to the free flow of prana within." - T. K. V. Desikachar
The Connection between Prana and Yogi
When a person's prana is greater outside their body that correlates to feeling unwell; they feel stuck, troubled, depressed, no motivation. Whereas, when prana is greater inside the body, a person is more at peace free from ill feelings. Practicing pranayama works to reduce the clutter of the mind, making room for prana to fit in the body. When yogis practice pranayama they concentrate on the prana within the body, blocking all distractions and negative feelings.
The understanding and creating the relationship between the mind, breathing, prana, and ultimately practicing pranayama is that a person has to make an effort to maintain and be aware of their prana. In the same way, we have to work to maintain balance in our lives and gain clarity of ourselves and others.
T. K. V. Desikachar in his text The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice states:
"Our state of mind is directly linked to the quality of prana within. Because we can influence the flow of prana through the flow of our breath, the quality of our breath influences our state of mind and vice versa. "
When practicing pranayama and learning your breath is crucial to keep the attention only on the breath. Once the attention and focus are only on the breath, a yogi has the opportunity to distance, detach and let go of the emotions, habits, and attitudes that hinder personal growth--- altering the state of mind. In pranayama, we want to reduce the feelings of doubt, fear, and worry, which is the same as being conscientious of how much prana leaks out and enters the body. The same way we have to be conscientious about not letting negative feelings and thoughts dictate our actions, moods, or speech. When the mind is disturbed and uneasy, so is the breath, but as the breathing pattern changes so will the mind---taking control of the breath allows for clear perceptions of self and others. In learning how to control or expand the breath we re-learn how to respond situations that cause stress internally and externally.
The quality and flow of prana, parallel a yogi's actions. The flow of prana is blocked or pushed from the body when our actions upset the mind resulting in feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and restriction. Yet, the moment we introduce a positive change in our mind, prana enters; positive thoughts and changes are crucial in growing and removing the blockages we hold within ourselves.
In acknowledging the breath, and understanding the interconnections between the mind, the breath, and one's life force (prana) being mindful of the breath becomes an act of self-care and love, because you acknowledge your truth and choose to do something about it. In pranayama or controlling your breath, you show up for yourself to make changes in how you breathe, ultimately to encourage changes in the mind.
Breathe better, feel better.
How will you be more mindful of your breath?