The word yoga means ‘union’ in Sanskrit. That’s why the practice of yoga is all about finding harmony with body and mind through a process that combines both effort and surrender.
One of the fundamental aspects of every yoga practice is yoga breath. You may get a workout without it, but you won’t ever access the transformative powers of yoga.
Read on to learn all about the importance of breathing in yoga and how it affects all aspects of your self. Namaste.
Why is Breathing Important in Yoga?
Breathing can be an automatic, unconscious response. In fact, most people go through their days unaware of their breath and not in control of it.
But it is also possible to guide the breathing patterns. When we do, our conscious breathing affects our bodies, mind, and spirits.
Being aware of one’s breath and synchronizing it to movement is at the heart of every yoga practice.
So while the poses and movements in yoga are important, it is actually the breath that does the real work. Your yoga breath centers the mind and allows your body to melt into poses instead of resisting.
There are other health benefits of yoga breathing as well.
Yoga Breath and Health
An important teaching in yoga is that the less you breathe, the longer you’ll live.
In his book Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda talks about how the species that breathe fewer times a minute tend to live longer than species that breathe more often per minute.
For example, dogs and hamsters (who both take many breaths a minute) have much shorter lifespans than humans.
A longer life is just one aspect of the importance of breathing in yoga.
Another benefit of intentional breathing is the way it balances our emotions. The controlled breathing that happens in yoga practices is one of the reasons people feel so good when they leave yoga.
When you are breathing unconsciously, your breath is controlled by the medulla oblongata (the most primitive part of the brain).
Yet when we start controlling our breath, it stimulates the cerebral cortex which is the more evolved region of the brain. In this way you raise your consciousness from its primitive state to the evolved.
Then, once it’s switched on, the cerebral cortex puts out inhibitory impulses to the respiratory center in the brain. These impulses also spill over into the hypothalamus (the area of the brain responsible for emotions). And that’s what causes yoga breath to slow down and even out our emotions.
In connection to this, your busy brain slows down and thoughts come less and less often. The built-up stress leaves your body with each purposeful exhale.
This is when your body’s energy begins to flow freely.
Yoga and Breathing and Energy
Connecting to your breath is one of the best ways to practice mindfulness and be present in the current moment.
There is no past or future but just the moment you are in. As you focus on the sensations you experience while breathing in and out, you enter a meditative state.
This is why you are less likely to become injured when you practice yoga breath. You intuitively tap into your body’s energy and cues and move between poses in a way that works with (not against) your body.
Moving through poses (asana) is simply a means to an end. In yoga, the movements allow us access to connect with our channels of energy.
When we connect to these energy channels we can open them. Open energy channels mean stronger organs and cells in our bodies and ultimately improved health and wellness.
Opening energy channels also increases the amount of prana or life force energy that flows within our bodies.
Conscious, controlled yoga breath allows you to open the channels, remove blockages, and increase prana flow. On the flip side, shallow, short, breaths kick-start the body’s stress response system and deplete the energy in your body.
The Cleansing Power of Breath
Deep breathing can elevate the body and mind.
That’s one of the fundamental reasons why breathing and yoga go hand in hand.
The grounding in and out cycle of breathing increases our circulation. Yoga can clean out your digestive system, clear out constipation, and give the nervous system a much-needed break.
Focusing on our breath also purifies our mind. Yoga practice is a dedicated time where to-do lists, ruminating on past conversations, and agonizing over your worries come to a standstill.
The more we practice being present, the more our mind learns that it doesn’t have to run away with thoughts. It can be still. And that is the purest cleansing gift you can give your mind.
During yoga we can tap into our essence. The truest part of ourselves that is often hidden deep inside. During the conscientious breathing in yoga, you allow that inner light to come forth and shine. As you do, more light and love fill your soul which brings with it peace.
As you can see, the transformative power of yoga lies in the breath. As we rejuvenate our bodies, minds, and spirits we can reach a higher, holier sphere of being.
Keep in mind that practice makes progress. It is perfectly natural when you are a beginner to yoga to forget to control your breath. You will find your mind has wandered off and you have to gently pull it back to the breath.
That’s OK. You will get better at this the more you practice. Soon, the incredible emotional and physical benefits of yoga breath will be yours.
Next, check out this restorative yoga sequence for every yogi.