Breath is Life: Pranayama

One of the greatest tools I’ve learned in this zen journey I am embarking on, is how important it is to breathe. Just breathe. That simple little thing.
There are so many things we can do to help our bodies and to show love to our bodies. We can eat healthy, we can exercise, we can abstain from cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. We can also breathe. I know, you already ARE breathing, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I am talking about deep, slow, intentional, releasing of the breath.

When we get stressed out our breathing tends to suffer. We breathe more quickly and shallowly which can deprive our bodies of the oxygen that keeps us going. Not breathing well enough has been linked to weakened immune systems, low energy levels, depression, poor concentration, and a higher level of stress, among other things.

There is a sanskrit word ‘pranayama’ which means the extension and control of the breath. There are lots of different breathing techniques you can pranayamalearn to open your lungs and allow yourself to breathe more deeply. Breath is life. It is more important than water and food, it is what sustains us. Whenever I am feeling stressed out or anxious I concentrate on my breath. I clear my mind and take several deep breaths and almost instantly I can begin to feel the tension fading from my body.

Several months ago I went through a period of stress and I was so anxious day after day. I remember being at work and taking this deep deep breath and then I had this moment of such joy and clarity. I felt like I was breathing for the first time. It felt so healing, so cleansing, to let the air flow deeply into my body. I remember thinking that I hadn’t been breathing. I was taking air into my body but it wasn’t the same. Pranayama also means ‘life force’ and that is what our breath is.

Just breathe.

If you have a few minutes I ask you to sit up straight and start being aware of your breathing. Notice the way the air feels as it goes into your body and the way that it feels when you release it. Take this time to listen to your body. Take a deep breath through your nose, hold it for five seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth. You can do this for a few minutes, for a hundred breaths, or until you feel relaxed.

You can also turn this into a meditation practice. Meditation has so many forms and sitting with your body, being aware of your breathing, is definitely one of them. One of my favorite meditation techniques is to imagine ‘breathing out’ anger/sadness/impatience and ‘breathing in’ joy/acceptance/calm. It really does work wonders. So breathe deep, be thankful for the feeling of the air going in and out, and thank your body for all of the amazing things it does for you.

You are amazing, each and every part of you.