“If we train our breathing, we can control our emotions—that is, we can cope with the happiness and pain in our lives.” Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
Ever try to hold your breath until you turned blue? OK, so you threatened your mom when you were a kid, but before you would turn blue you would just pass out so your body could take a big suck of air and get back to living. Three minutes, that’s all it takes to rob the brain of enough oxygen to put you into the deep sleep. And yet it is common for people to unconsciously hold their breath for short periods throughout the day. In a yoga or meditation practice your breath is the key that unlocks the door to the inner Self. It is called Prana, a Sanskrit word, which translates as both breath and life. Prana is the vital energy force that pervades our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies, keeping us alive and vibrant. It also pervades the entire universe.
The practice of pranayama (breath work) allows for full control of that energizing force in ones body, providing excellent health, and a purification of the nervous system, bringing the sense-urges and cravings under the practitioners control. After maintaining a consistent practice even for a short period of time, you will find that you will automatically bring your awareness to your breath whenever you need to calm or focus your mind.
I met a man once who told me how his quick temper had ruined his marriage and relationships with co-workers. Someone had suggested he try meditation to gain control over his emotions. What he found was that the angrier he became in a situation, the more his chest would tighten from holding his breath until he would explode with verbal or physical violence. He began to focus his awareness on just breathing calmly. To his surprise, his heart rate would begin to slow, the tension in the pit of his stomach eased, and he could take a full, deep inhale, dissipating his anger.
Godfrey Devereux, in his book The Elements of Yoga, describes how there is no amount of flexibility, strength, stamina, or concentration that can compensate for breath that is repressed in the body. If the breath is inhibited, the mind cannot free itself from limitations from past conditioning and old habits. The breath is the sherpa that leads the climber to the peak of Everest; it is the guide that lovingly takes us through the restrictions of our mind to the true nature of the Self.
Next: A Simple Breathing Practice
The traditional practice of breath meditation is to simply sit still. Now close your eyes and center yourself to the flow of your breath.
1. Slowly begin to count to six on the inhale, then count to six on the exhale.
Do this for six rounds.
2. Take three normal breaths, and then count to six on the inhale and deepen the breath to eight on the exhale. (This takes you into a deeper state of relaxation).
Do this for another six rounds.
3. Take three normal breaths and return to a six-count inhale with a six-count exhale for six rounds. At the end of this, relax and breathe normally.
Remember that you are not the breather but rather the observer of the breath, watching the natural flow of each inhale and exhale.