Updated: May 19
Take a moment and imagine this: what if I told you that a simple change in your breathing habits could lead to a drastic improvement in your lifestyle? It might sound like an exaggeration, but trust me, there's a wealth of scientific evidence supporting this claim.
Breathing correctly, by inhaling into the diaphragm and exhaling deeply, has remarkable benefits that can revolutionize your well-being.
But it's not just about physical health. Breathing exercises and mindfulness in therapy can unlock a whole new level of inner dialogue between you and your therapist. In therapies like Gestalt therapy, the importance of breathing in the therapy room is emphasized. Therapists actively work with your breath, leading to creative and often surprising breakthroughs.
Moreover, there's increasing physiological evidence linking breathing patterns to the brain regions that control our mood and emotions. It's incredible how something as fundamental as breathing, which we often overlook, plays such a crucial role in our lives. The more we delve into its significance, the more we realize its immense value.
Inspired by these revelations, I've embarked on a mission to explore various breathing practices called Pranayama.
Pranayama is a big part of the Kundalini Yoga practice. Working with the breath is a way of not only calming the mind, but increasing our life force. Fritz Perls, the psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt therapy, has pointed out, that the less breath you feed your fear, the bigger your fear gets. He once said:
‘Fear is excitement without the breath.’
To conquer fear, all you need to do is breathe into it. By fully embracing your breath, fear can be transformed into excitement. As Perls implied, that Fear and Thrill are similar, and in fact, every human feeling and emotion has a dual aspect. There are two opposites or two dimensions to all things. If there is sorrow, there will also be joy.
Shallow breathing is part of the typical stress response. The symptoms of a phobia include difficulty breathing, pounding heart and chest pain. Practising deep breathing is a hack a lot of experts swear by to treat anxious thoughts and nervousness. Deep breathing slows down your heart rate, allows the body to take in more oxygen and ultimately signals the brain to wind down. It also lowers cortisol levels.
The best part? You don't need copious amounts of time or special skills to practice pranayama. You can do it on a train, a plane, or anywhere in the world, simply by detaching yourself from your surroundings and going inward. But before we dive in, let's explore what exactly Pranayama is.
"Pranayama" translates to "control of Breath". "Prana" is a Breath or vital energy in the body. It literally means “to breath forth”. On subtle levels, "Prana" represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and "Ayama" means control. So, Pranayama is the art of controlling and harnessing this life force.
Let’s start your journey by asking an easy question:
Why do you breathe? It's obvious, isn't it? You do it because breath is life itself. When you stop breathing, you stop living.
So that’s all good. You more likely answered this question correctly, am I right? But here's the real question: how do you breathe? Or, more importantly, how well do you breathe? Consider your posture, the depth and regularity of your breaths, and whether you're breathing into your diaphragm.
Take a moment to connect with your breath, observing it without judgment, and make a mental note.
Here's a word of caution: while it may sound simple, the journey of pranayama is not without obstacles.
Obstacles are defence mechanisms. They are part of ourselves that protect us from pushing forward. So, if you have an urge to drop the practice after a short time, please don’t!
In Sanskrit, obstacles are known as "Antaraya," which literally means "to come between." They can take various forms, both mental and physical. However, remember that you can always modify your pranayama practice to a simple reclining breathing awareness until you find your balance.
Yet, the most significant obstacle lies in our resistance to put in the work and our desire for instant gratification. Even the breath itself requires effort. So, don't let discouragement or impatience take hold. When you don’t see the instant results, you might engage in self-doubt. Pranayama is a journey, so lower your expectations and allow yourself to... BREATHE.