What is the very first act upon being born? No rocket science here, we inhale! Our very last act is to exhale. All masters have at length deliberated on the subject. Yet we need to develop the habit of being mindful of our breathing patterns and style.
From our first breath on, every minute of our lives, we continue to breathe, taking this miraculous ability for granted because our body’s autonomous system does the job so masterfully – and yet, we can control the breath and in doing so change our state of being.
We tend to think that only food provides us with the energy to survive. This is an incorrect assumption. Essentially, there are four sources of energy that sustains us. These are food, breath, rest and a calm and meditative state of mind. The quantity of food partaken is also very significant.
As per Ayurveda there are three containments in the stomach. One- third meant for food, one-third for air and one-third for liquids. If we cup our palms together, it gives us an idea of the quantity of food we need to consume. Prior to every meal, a glance at cupped palms might remind us to be mindful of what we consume. We have neglected this essential aspect of life.
There are innumerable bonuses to be had by practicing conscious breathing or the ability to observe the breath, not necessarily control it.
1. Physically, we can be aware as to how our breathing pattern provides oxygen to our organs. To stimulate the body’s relaxation response, we need to focus on long, deep Ujjayi breaths. In this technique, practitioners should experience a sensation in the throat region. Ujjayi breaths help in elongating the breath, making it fine, smooth and also helps in the practice of yoga. Each yogic posture we undertake can be held for a longer duration to reap maximal benefit.
Infact we barely use thirty percent of our lung capacity. Through mindful breathing we can also expel ninety percent of toxins. There are several on-line classes being conducted by the faculty of the Art of Living under the tutelage of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar from which individuals can learn and appreciate the magical, therapeutic prowess of pranayama.
We can undertake pain management through proper breathing exercises. If a certain part of body is aching, one can draw all the attention to that part and observe the breath. This coupled with Mudra Pranayama works as a tonic in mitigation of pain.
“As a fire blazes brightly when the covering of ash over it is scattered by the wind, the divine fire within the body shines in all its majesty when the ashes of desire are scattered by the practice of pranayama,” wrote the polymath Yogic Guru Shri B.K.S Iyengar.
2. The human mind keeps oscillating between the past and the future, never remaining in the present. Willy-nilly this results in emotional upheaval in our system.
The mind can be brought to the present moment through the unfailing practice of the rhythmic breathing technique of Sudarshan Kriya. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, ‘Mind is like the kite and the breath is like a string.’ This string can be effectively used to calm the mind through mindful breathing.
3. We can practice meditation by beginning with Nadi Shodan Pranayama. This relaxes the body, muscles and nerves and we seamlessly slip into meditation. Meditation is an act of de-concentration where we strive to embrace all thoughts, never resisting any thought or emotion. The reality in life is that whatever we resist actually persists. Meditation eventually leads to mental sharpness and clarity and increases levels of concentration.
4. Human minds are cannonaded by innumerable thoughts. This leads to a state of perennial mental chatter. For a moment let us draw our attention to animals chewing cud, the process of regurgitation. This is exactly how we humans keep feeding on our negative thoughts and fears, re-living them every moment.
Through mindful breathing we can arrest this tendency and reduce the mental chatter, bringing our minds to the present moment. ‘We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves,’ said Buddha.
Profound silence dawns on us through mindful breathing and over a period of time antipathetic thoughts and fears in the mind dissolve, as we learn to be in the present moment, connecting to our inner self; living in harmony with our environment and our existence.
5. Spiritually, conscious breathing helps to remind us that energy is constantly moving. As Einstein famously said, ‘Nothing happens until something moves.’ Well, since energy is always in motion (vibration), then change is a constant in our lives! This is a truth which cannot be ignored. Let us all practice mindful breathing from this very instant!
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