Near the end of many yoga classes a student may hear instructions to perform specific breathing patterns. This is known as Pranayama. Pranayama is one of the 8 limbs of what creates a complete yoga practice. It is often taught as part of a class that emphasizes the postures, known as a hatha yoga class. But there is an underestimated value in spending time to focus solely on practicing pranayama.
Breathing is the basis of all we do. The breath allows us to move and engage with the world. But it also is a reflection of the quality of our interactions with our external environment and relationships. Cultivating an awareness of the breath that allows one to have conscious and active control over it can be very useful in a myriad of situations. Remember a time you’ve been in stressful situation or even a stressful conversation. It’s common for out breath to speed up when the body senses we are being stressed. This the body’s way of preparing us to stand our ground for a fight or to save ourselves and flee.
You can control the quality of your experience in most situations by controlling (or not) the quality of your breath. Breathing is an autonomic physiological process, but can be consciously manipulated. You can change the physiological messages your breath sends to the physical and emotional body. The physical practice of yoga can teach you to confront discomfort while staying connected to the breath. Pranayama immerses you in the focus of becoming familiar with and manipulating the breath in a myriad of ways. Doing this will prepare you for the next time you find yourself overwhelmed by sensations or emotions. You can feel more grounded by staying connected to your breath and you will be less likely to be thrown off in challenging situations. You can show up the way you would like to when dealing with your job, your family and any interpersonal relationships.
But it takes more than a 5 minute savasana with some breath focus at the end of your class. Be open to spending a significant amount of time with this profound part of yourself. Doing so will help you to develop a healthier relationship with yourself and better prepare you for whatever comes along in the future.
Written by Melissa Gutierrez, Yoga Instructor