We take our breath for granted. As a matter of fact we take most of our bodily functions for granted, but let’s focus on breath as it is one of the more vital and basic needs for survival. In yogic terms the breath in called ‘prana’ or life force, and the exercise of breathing is called ‘pranayama’ or extension of the life force. What is breath? Breath is just a composition of air that our body releases. When we breathe we ingest some air, our bodies alter the composition of that air based on our needs, and then we exhale.
Why do we breathe? What happens if we don’t breathe? We breathe to oxygenate our bodily organs. We receive o2 when we breathe, a chemical we also receive when we drink water, and presumably derive it from other sources as well; in the course of breathing we release toxic chemicals from our bodies such as carbon dioxide, a chemical we could presumably excrete in other ways too. So the question remains; why breathe? I can’t provide an answer to this, but I can tell you the most important things and the most wonderful things are often inexplicable.
Breathing is something we do unconsciously and like most things that happen unconsciously, the effects are pervasive and far reaching. Our breath is the vehicle by which each cell in our body receives the oxygen it needs and releases its unneeded and toxic gas: carbon dioxide. Every organ in our body is made up of millions of cells, and our single inhalation allows for the continued productivity of them; imagine the huge benefit we are getting by a simple intake of air. Our brains, hearts, lungs, and other organs would not be able to reach its optimum functionality if we stopped breathing.
Breathing helps our physical bodies in a most necessary way, but its calming and introspective qualities are often overlooked also. Most of us take short, shallow breaths; although this type of breathing gives us just enough oxygen to sustain us, long, deep breaths gives our bodies ample oxygen to utilize and also a side effect of relaxation. Breathing is something we do unconsciously and thus do not pay attention to how or when, therefore our bodies just takes what it needs; but if we consciously become aware of our breath: why we are doing it, the how will most likely change automatically.
Taking long, deep breaths helps promote the productivity and longevity of our cells and thus our bodies; but also deep breathing promotes calmness and clarity. When we can focus on taking deeper breaths it not only refreshes us and helps us break out of the pattern of stress, anxiety or fear, but it also helps us stay in the present by forcing our bodies to do something it otherwise would not if it were left to its own awareness. Shallow breathing is an indicator of a stress- prone environment which allows and is sometimes accompanied with tense, hunched shoulders. When our bodies are stressed: physically burdened, physically tired (cardio), and physically anxious (adrenaline) our breathing is affected and reverts to its normal and unconscious functioning, and for most of us that is quick shallow breaths. Like this, we inhale less oxygen and exhale less carbon dioxide. Without proper intake and elimination, our cells run the risk of dying and we start perspiring. However, if we can learn to control and be aware of our breath deep breathing can help when our bodies are taxed.
Deep breathing, control of the breath, and different kinds of breathing are yogic practices. The importance and practice of pranayama is taught in the introduction to yoga. Yoga and different disciplines that stress the importance of the breath teach us that breathing into the pain, stress, or anything else the body feels promotes relaxation. Breathing in synchronization with our exercises is called asanas or postures. In these postures we achieve unison with God, the ultimate goal of yoga.
Breathing seems trivial, so trivial that it happens without our knowing it. But understanding its importance goes to show how faulty our thinking is when putting stress and importance on things.
When you can learn how to breathe, your body will be easier, and when your body is easier and more calm, your clarity and rationality increase. Taking a minute to breathe will renew the moment and see beyond the stress and anxiety.
So, take a breath; breathe yourself in and breathe out the fears and stress that aren’t you. Inhale.