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How Pranayama changed my practice & my life

On average a person will take 20,000 breaths in one day. This varies depending on the health of a person, physical activity, emotional levels and other factors. I have only more recently started working my breath out. Like a teenager figuring out what makes them want to roll out of bed everyday, I've been working out what makes restricts my breath? what excites it? relaxes it? how much of my internal dialogue dictates the volume of oxygen reaching my blood and feeding my body?!? You might think that by 28 years of age, breathing would be something we all do VERY well, however, we do not.

Many people (myself included) breath in the chest cavity only. The inhale occurs, the shoulders rise and the rib cage expands, before we exhale and the shoulders drop. We think we have deeply inhaled and continue forth with this rhythmic habit. This, unfortunately for us all who quickly stopped and took note of our breath, is not even remotely the full capacity of our lungs. Short, sharp breath intake limits the oxygen to the blood, inhibits the circulatory system, diminishes the digestive system and further, the immune system. That's a lot of systems malfunctioning because we just didn't fully grip the concept of deep breathing our grade 8 PE teacher described.

Honestly though, a quote that might help you grasp the importance of breath, "As our soul, being air, sustains us, so pneuma (breath) and air pervade the whole world" (Singer 1957). Some ancient scientist-philosopher Anaximenes of Miletus (born circa 570BCE) had the belief that the essence of all things was air (Stephens 2010). People have been known to swim sub-zero waters using Prana techniques that passively warm the body, Incredible!

Not one to have mastered my own technique of meditation fully, in the beginning I lay down with a hand on my stomach and just breathed naturally. Naturally for me that is. I watched (with my internal eye) how I was breathing and at first this felt hard to do, because the mind wants to control the breath when it becomes aware of it. Our breath can also be affected by our moods and the happenings of our day, so it's important to keep all of this in mind. Take note of it all and don't force any change.

I was recently told about how when we lay down to sleep, the body naturally breaths deeply because we can't actually fall asleep without that deep breath. So I lay there and relaxed as if to sleep. I had a sudden realisation that to breath deep, I don't have to force it, my belly doesn't have to shake with the effort. Not sure who ever said I did have to because that's actually not relaxing at all....

Ask yourself: what does it feel like? what initiates the inhale and exhale? what does the breath sound like? how fully do you inhale? what changes do you feel in your body? do you feel any gripping or holding?

I took note of the feeling of my own breath. I relaxed my shoulders down away from my ears, and I focused on only inhaling to the point in which my rib cage begins to expand but the shoulders haven't moved. I've been practicing just this for weeks now and have been applying it in all aspects of my every day living. At 6:30 in the AM when your 4 year old asks 8 times if we can eat breakfast while his sister is asleep on your face, thumb in mouth and drool slowly sliding down your cheek. I feel a transformation happening.

All jokes aside, my entire energy has changed and there seems to be a more natural flow that is becoming the norm. I approach each day with an attitude that accepts that "what will be, will be" and I find moments to think about everything I am grateful of. The feisty, crazy and stressed version of myself is starting to shift my attention to breath when the moment starts to run away from me and I'm starting to get to know myself on the deepest level. The level where breath begins.

Refining the flow of breath is a truly awakening experience, that you should definitely consult your physician about first if you have any concerns or suffer any type of pre-existing breathing issues.

The development of breathing more deeply, calmly and of a steady pace whilst consciously moving energy throughout the body, can be explored through practices that make the skeletal and muscular components of breathing stronger and more limber. In Yogic practice there are 3 main types of breathing exercises used by many; Ujjayi Pranayama, Alternate Nostril Breathing and Three part breath. Pranayama is one of the most mystified aspects of Yoga, which in certain ancient texts has been recommended to attempt only after the asana's have been perfected. However, for me personally, this journey I am on - the two are intrinsically entwined. In order to further my asana practice, meditation and over all well-being, it has to start with my breath.


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