While most of us are aware of the importance of physical exercise and yoga, it is important to know that awareness of breath and synchronising breath and movement is what makes yoga, yoga. Read of the different ways the breath influences your yoga practice, how the breath and mind are closely connected and how this awareness of the breath gives us a tool to work with the mind
Breath and Asana
When focusing on the breath during your asana practice, the control shifts from the brain stem (medulla oblongata) to the cerebral cortex (evolved part of the brain) due to you being aware of the breath. It’s in that moment, when we are aware, the magic starts to happen. The mind will become quieter and a calm awareness arises.
As a result, emotional stress and random thoughts are less likely to occur. So basically the whole system gets a break. The energy, the prana, begins to flow more freely pushing through any emotional and physical blockages and thus freeing the body and mind. Which results in the “feel good” effect after a yoga practice. So we can safely say that breath has an intimate relationship to the overall movement of prana (life energy) throughout the entire body.
In our physical practice breath also has everything to do with our structural alignment and the patterns in which we hold, perceive and move the body. Breath awareness can eliminate joint compression and other imbalances from one’s postures and attitudes. Awareness of breath is also the foundation for flowing seamlessly in movement through an Ashtanga Vinyasa practice.
Breath and Mind
If you have practised serious meditation, you will have noticed that when the breath moves, the mind moves as well. Of course, this works both ways, so as the mind moves, the breath moves too.
The breath gives us a tool with which we can explore the subtler structures of our mental and emotional worlds. When the breath changes, it tells you that something is happening in your mind.
This basically means that the breath gives us a tool with which we can explore the subtler structures of our mental and emotional worlds. When the breath changes, it tells you that something is happening in your mind. When something happens in your mind, like a disturbing thought, for example, your breath will reflect it back to you.
You will then understand that because the breath and mind are so connected, awareness and mindfulness of breathing can lead to insight into the nature of mind. This leads eventually to freedom from suffering.
Now that the benefits of being aware of the breath within your yoga practice have been made clear, let us talk about the Ujjayi breath.
This pranayama is usually done in association with asana, unlike some of the other forms of pranayama. Ujjayi breath is the type of breath used in a Vinyasa/Ashtanga style of practice. It is the main style of breathing used when you flow and practise the more strenuous poses. When you start to cool down and move more into the relaxing poses, it’s time to let go of this way of breathing and to allow the breath to be more natural. Ujjayi breath is both relaxing and energising. Sometimes you may find yourself spontaneously breathing this way in deep meditation or during deep absorption or concentration.
Close your eyes, imagine looking down the nose, softly smile and begin to lengthen the breath. Next, close the back of the throat a little like you do when you whisper something. You should now feel the flow of air moving through the back of the throat. Keep the mouth closed while you do this. The sound of your breath will be a little like the sound of the wind through the trees.
Listening to the breath allows it to fully flourish. Keep the sound and length of the breath the same on the in and out breath. Practise this type of breathing during your asana class and whenever else you feel like it.