The Power of Yogic Breath | Yoga

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Why is there so much focus on the breath in yoga? What is the link between yoga and breath, and why is it so important (besides the fact that it keeps us alive)?

In a typical yoga class, we are instructed to consciously breathe, connect to our breath, breathe deeply, retain our breath, etc. But what impact does this breath have on us and our practice?

Breath And Length Of Life

A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years. - Swami Sivananda

It is said that if you breathe 15 times per minute, you will live to 75 or 80 years. If you breathe 10 times per minute you will live to 100. The speed at which you breathe will dictate the length of life. If you breathe fast, your life will be shortened. 

Purification

One of the major roles of breath is that it purifies our blood stream. The quickest and most effective way to purify they body is by taking in extra supplies of oxygen from the air we breathe. By purifying the blood stream, every part of the body benefits, as well as the mind. If the mind doesn't get enough fresh oxygen, the result is mental sluggishness, negative thoughts, depression and, eventually, a decline in vision and hearing.

Conscious Breathing

We are continually instructed to “breathe consciously” when we are in yoga class. Breathing consciously is the essence of yoga as it assists us in connecting with the subtle energy within. It is through the breath that we are able to navigate different levels of consciousness. Moreover, breathing consciously has a biological effect on our mental, emotional and physical state.

Firstly, connecting with your breath is a method for being present. When you concentrate on each aspect of the breathing process, you are present; you let go of the past and future and are focused on the moment inside the breath. This is why breathing consciously is its own meditation. But this is just the beginning of why conscious breathing is important.

When you breathe consciously you also activate a different part of your brain. Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain stem, the primitive part of the brain, while conscious breathing comes from the more evolved areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex. So conscious breathing stimulates the cerebral cortex and the more evolved areas of the brain. Consciously breathing sends impulses from the cortex to the connecting areas that impact emotions. Activating the cerebral cortex has a relaxing and balancing effect on the emotions. In essence, by consciously breathing, you are controlling which aspects of the mind dominate, causing your consciousness to rise from the primitive/instinctual to the evolved/elevated.

Prana And Pranayama

In yoga we learn to control prana, the vital force, through breath practices (pranayama). We use the breath in pranayama to learn to control prana, but don’t confuse prana with breath. Prana is the energy that animates the lungs. It is NOT the breath. Using the breath is the easiest method for training prana. Once you are able to control prana through pranayama you are better able to control the movement of prana to other organs and areas of the body.

Breath + Prana + Mind

Basically we can look at the breath like the oil in a car, prana as the gasoline, and the mind as the engine. By understanding their relationship to one another you are better equipped to move your life forward, and repair it when there is a bump in the road.

Sachi Doctor

Elemental Alchemy, 90 Rio Vista Avenue, Oakland, CA, 94611

Sachi Doctor is an Ayurvedic practitioner and holistic health coach who founded Elemental Alchemy with the mission to provide a resource for those navigating their way towards optimal mind-body health.

Diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at a young age, Sachi has spent over twenty years exploring different health modalities, treatment plans, diets and mindfulness practices to help alleviate chronic pain and restore balance.

After years of looking to others for a model of health with no relief, Sachi realized that the answers she sought were not hidden in someone else’s prescription for wellness but unique to her, and that the first step towards discovery was actually tuning out what was right for others and tuning into herself.

As she tapped into the wisdom of her own body, she discovered that the elements foundational for health  — the blueprint she so fervently sought — was within her, within each of us. Since then Sachi has been passionate about helping others also cultivate clarity and inner wisdom for vibrant health.

In addition to her Ayurvedic and nutrition education, Sachi has completed over 800 hours of yoga teacher training and continues to study with her mother, her first yoga teacher, for whom these practices are a way of life.

Sachi is a board member of the Prison Yoga Project at San Quentin State Prison and serves as an ambassador for Yoga Gives Back, a non-profit that raises funds within the US yoga community to support microcredit programs for women in India. She holds a Msc in Development from the London School of Economics.