27 Dec Why we breathe: A praise to PRANAYAMA
How can you ever start meditation when all you really want to do is switch your mind off and flee into a daydream? Meditation isn’t for me, as soon as I try it, the stream of thoughts just seem to increase.
In our modern world of body image focus, we have chosen to really just love the asana part of yoga. Meditation is less popular and seems to take more dedication to the practice. One part that has most definitely been left in the dark is Pranayama for the laymen. You might be fortunate enough to take classes with a teacher who incorporates some breathing exercises in the beginning or end of classes. Your teacher might even explain how and why we use them. But very often, as a student in a fast pace world, we overlook this element and would most probably not remember or even less use them in my own private Sadhana (practice).
This is an unfortunate mistake.
We don’t realise just how powerful the breath is. Sure, you know that it keeps you alive. But controlling the breath means you’ll also control the mind. And here is where your every day key to health lies. In what could be 10 minutes of a practice you can change your relationship to your body, the people around you and your perception.
How so, you say?
Let’s start with one basic principal: we are built for survival, on all levels. This is why we seek safety for sleep, this is why we eat. It is also why we feel the need to adapt to the group’s norms so that we are included and not isolated. The amazing machine that we are is constantly reading signals from outside of the skin but also inside, in order to find balance, in order to survive. The brain uses the signals to send messages through its channels to the other organs for activation. This is done via the nervous system, it’s centre piece being in the brain and the nerve endings are situated in the periphery, in the organs, elsewhere in the body. So the nervous system is KEY in how we function. If we can learn how to control the reactions of the nervous system to the signals, we become the masters of our own being. We could then control it’s reaction to everything that happens to us. As if to create a space between an action and a reaction in order to actually CHOOSE what we will do instead of … just reacting.
What would be the way to find control over the nervous system? THE BREATH.
Let me illustrate with an example. I was contacted one morning by my neighbour who asked if I had any anti anxiety pills to spare her. I went over to see her and she explained that she had experienced something that could be described as a panic attack during the night and was out of herself, she hadn’t slept and her heart was beating very fast. She was highly anxious and would even vomit several times so she thought she might have eaten something that wasn’t fresh.
I sat her down and asked her to join me in a breathing exercise that is called alternate nostril breathing. After only a minute or so of this practice, she began to cry. Tears are our gateway to emotional release. I let her cry until she was finished and she then began to talk. The reaction didn’t come from bad food, it came from all the worries going through her mind. She then felt instantly very tired and I left her there to finally go to sleep. No pills needed. Just calming the nervous system with breath control.
The yogis knew it way back when…. But modern science has caught up on the importance of controlling the breath. Research has shown how the way we breathe is linked to our physical/mental/emotional health. The breath is synchronised with the functioning of our limbic system which is in charge of our emotions. This is why we can learn, by breathing right, to create a space between action and reaction.
When we are in pain, the limbic system reads it and responds to it. But it doesn’t make the difference between physical and emotional pain. We can live in emotional pain for years and our limbic system is working 24/7 on this pain. It becomes the priority and less important things like taking up nutrients from the food we eat or making sure that our glands produces the right amount of hormones becomes secondary. So yes, we could say that one can become physically sick from heart ache.
By Charlotte Skogsberg