Yes, 'tis true. Our breath is what gives us the vital energy we need to get through each day. Of course, food and water are important sources of energy as well...but without the breath, we'd survive, what, a couple of minutes?
That fact alone is reason to give more attention to the breathing process. Most of us simply breathe on autopilot throughout the day, and thankfully our body works in this way--think of how much different (and shorter) our lives would be if, for each breath we took, we had to think about it!
The very cool thing about our respiratory system is that it's controlled by both our autonomic nervous system (the autopilot function) and the somatic nervous system (meaning, we can also direct our body to breathe, like telling your body to lift your arm or walk). This is why the breath is such an important foundation for a yoga practice—it is the connection between mind and body, and the key to being able to control our body's autonomic functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. According to H. David Coulter in his book The Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, “Quiet breathing influences the autonomic circuits that slow the heartbeat and reduce blood pressure, producing calm and a sense of stability. Our ability to control respiration consciously gives us access to autonomic function that no other system of the body can boast.”
Okay, so you might be a little skeptical...really, control your heart rate? But I'm telling ya, those yogis were some wise peeps, and knew a lot of things about the function of the body that have now been confirmed through science (more on that in future posts).
So, here's a little 5-minute experiment to try, (audio version included here): Breath Awareness
Sit comfortably with your back lengthened, either in a chair or on the floor, or lie down and fully relax. Close your eyes, and observe your natural breathing process, becoming aware of the spontaneous flow of the breath. Feel the breath moving in and out of your nose. Try not to control the breath in any way, just observe it. Notice that the air feels cool as you are inhaling, and warm as you are exhaling. Feel the breath moving in and out at the back of the mouth. Become aware of the breath flowing in and out through the throat region. Then become aware of the breath moving down into the chest region, and back out again. Feel your lungs, and how they expand on your inhale, and contract on your exhale. Notice how the ribcage expands and contracts as well. Bring your awareness to the abdomen, and notice how the belly gently expands as you inhale, and softly moves toward the spine as you exhale. Become aware of the whole breathing process, the movement of air from the nostrils down to the belly. Now gently, open your eyes...
So, how do you feel? And what did you observe about your breath? Post a comment below and let me know!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, where I'll lead you through how to breathe into the three main parts of the lungs...
I totally appreciate any and all questions, comments, feedback, and requests...feel free to either leave a comment below, or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.