Pranayama, the yogic breath, is different from the breath used for surfing the Internet or driving around town or even during sleep. It’s a breath punctuated by an extended inhale where the rib cage expands, aerates the lungs and activates the parasympathetic nervous system – that part of the central nervous system that promotes our sense of well-being. Most of the time, usually we are unaware, we’re in a sympathetic state. The breath is short and shallow, the body tight and constricted like a dog with its hackles up, primed and ready to defend its territory.
When we soften the edges and allow ourselves to expand into the breath, it becomes fuel for our poses – we can settle in for the journey of a particular pose. Liken it to gas for a car – the more you put into the tank, the further the vehicle will travel. Often, when we greet our edge in a pose, the body tenses and constricts and the mind speeds up the chatter. “This is new. This is unfamiliar. I’m uncomfortable. No I’m not. This is fun. This isn’t fun. I want to go deeper. I need to get out of this pose, NOW!” It’s in those tight spots you can recruit your breath to calm the mind’s turbulence and let the body soften and maybe even find rest in the pose.
The best thing about the breath is it is portable — you take it with you wherever you go. You don’t have to wear the trendiest yoga top or practice in a Feng Shui studio or go to India to get your yoga on. You can get there in one breath. Yoga meets you wherever you are. So the next time you’re at a stop light, take a breath. When you’re stirring spaghetti sauce, strike a Tree Pose. When you’re standing in the slowest line, feel the refreshing coolness of your inhale, and the soothing warmth of your exhale – there’s your yoga.
Calm body. Calm mind.