Three reasons why we use breath in Yoga - Part 1

Three reasons why we use breath in Yoga - Part 1


Deep inside the Cave

Ancient yogic thinking says that we have a certain number of breaths over our lifetime. It makes sense then that if we’re anxious or fearful, our breathing become rapid, our heart rate increases, and our life will be shorter. During deep relaxation and meditation, the breath becomes deeper, longer and quieter. The more relaxed we are, the slower and deeper we breathe, the longer we will live…makes sense really.

Have you noticed how your breathing can change? How is your breathing when you’re shocked, depressed, intidmidated, excited, watching a horror movie, tearjerker…Even though you may not be physically exerting yourself, your breathing can change dramatically with your mood. And the amazing bit is that we are able to take control of our breath and change it at will.

In yoga, we make the most of this ability to control respiration during asana practice on the yoga mat, as well as during pranayama practice. Respiration is all about getting oxygen and nutrients to every cell of the body. Many yoga therapies claim that by using the breath as a doorway to the other systems, we can directly control the other systems of the body - balance the nerves, circulation, reproduction, digestion, immune systems etc...Does yoga show us the possibilities through the control of the breath – is it really possible to regulate the other systems? What do you think? Have you had direct experience of this?

 Three reasons why we use the breath in asana

1. Present moment - We take control of the breath to coordinate the mind and the body. If your body is here in the room but your thoughts are quite honestly, completely elsewhere, poses become ‘mechanical’ and our minds are busy with the world outside, the past and the future. When we use the breath as a focus to bring the mind not only into the room, but into the body, we bring attention to what we are doing, we bring our attention into the present moment as we move from posture to posture.

2. Creating freedom - Once we start to notice the breath, we can judge if we are forcing a pose or heading for an injury - breathing should always be open, relaxed and free from any constriction. That means no huffing, puffing, forcing, rasping, holding (unless you are being instructed to do for a particular breathing technique). The aim is not to create more tension but to create freedom in the body, and a calm state of mind, even if the pose is what may be described as 'advanced'.

3. Connections - We learn to initiate the movement from the breath so there is a natural rhythm, a ripple from the depths of the body towards the surface. On a physical level, this awareness of the breath moving us helps us to work with the deep muscles close to the bones. On a mental level, it helps us to move our attention from the surface of things and find deeper meaning. On a spiritual level, awareness of subtle energies at work can create connections between our own natural rhythm, the pace of nature, and universal energy - we become one with it.

You may have found other reasons - please let us know if you have anything to add to the above?


By Judy Hirsh, Yoga teacher - If you are looking for a class, workshop, course or holiday near you or far away from home, take a look at the YU Community pages.