Pranayama: The Art of Breathing

Breath is part of our daily life; indeed it is part of what defines our existence, the ability to breathe.

Our relationship to air is essential to understanding our beginnings and end. Our first breath in the world signals our independence in the world. As an infant we are not cognizant of this independence for some time. We long for our parent’s arms, to be held, to be rocked and for the proximity that we once had in our mother’s womb. At a certain point we emerge from that space of symbiosis and begin to understand ourselves as inherently and somewhat painfully separate to our caregiver. Not long after, or around this time we begin to speak.

Air, breathe, silence and speech all have a relationship to life. Air gives passage and allows encounters between people through speech. Breath nurtures and sustains us. Deep breathing can help with our healing and calm our nervous system.

Breath can be the basis from which we rethink singularity and community (Luce Irigaray). It enables us to become embodied and steady. Yet the expansiveness of breath, especially as practiced in pranayama allows us to extend the boundaries of who we are to encompass and understand the relationship all things have to breath and air.

As a society we have neglected to cultivate our breath and cut ourselves off from the natural world. To sit and breathe is a simple gateway to spirit, to understanding life beyond material gain, achievement and doing.

Pranayama is integral to yoga as the control of breath, or in yogic terms energy, is the fourth limb of Patanjali’s yoga. Some believe the practice of pranayama emerged as a way to control the breath while ancient texts were chanted. It is believed that the naturally occurring breath regulation was observed to have effects on the mind and body.

Pranayama practices are diverse and include simple and more complex breathing patterns. Pranayama is also now is becoming accepted as a wonderful form of complementary care which enhances our wellbeing and impacts our central nervous system in observable ways.

Pranayama also helps with clinical populations. Research is beginning to show that in different ways yogic breathing can help those living with:

-asthma
-stress
-hypertension
-anxiety
-diabetes
-cancer

Thus, it reduces stress and anxiety, improves autonomic and higher neural centre functioning and even, as shown in some studies, improves physical health of cancer patients.

Pranayama can be a very simple and accessible practice that encourages us to remember who we were before we lost our connection to our breath, body and nature. It can help us become grounded in the world and in this moment. It can be a refuge or anchor in moments of stress, worry or despair and works physiologically to bring about shifts so we can live well.

In relationships when we remember to breath and examine the inverse relationship between breath and speech we start to be able to truly listen to another. We open to the way of breath in which we do not seek to dominate another through our speech, but create a psychic clearing, wherein there is the possibility for us both to breathe. In this space we can pause and move from being I to being We.

In our very temporal existence we begin to realise the scarcity of possibilities life presents to us to breathe. It is important to construct and enter spaces where we give ourselves permission to be with our breath.

Traditionally the sharing of pranayama is an established genealogy of breath. Wherein one shares their experience of breath with another, who begins their own process of understanding and integrating what it means to slow the breath down and to pay attention.

This month teachers at Yoga Space will be (re)introducing students to simple pranayama practices, to help us connect with our breath and to move into the world understand the precious gift it is to be breathing.
Namaste
Jean

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