Breath carries everything. Breath is a life force; we begin our life with a breath and we end it with a breath. The breath, body, and mind all work together. If one of these is agitated, the others will follow. If one is calmed, the others will follow. From the breath we receive oxygen, which nourishes the blood, organs, and cells, and Prana — life force — travels on oxygen. Join this second part in our month of breathing!
Body, mind and spirit are one
You can read part one in this series about breathing here.
The main objective of hathayoga (physical yoga), is to create an absolute harmony of the interacting activities and processes of energy, mind and physical body. In hathayoga ha represents prana, the vital force, and tha represents mind, the mental energy. Therefore hathayoga is about the union of pranic (prana shakti) and mental forces (manas shakti).
When this occur, the awakening of higher conciousness happens in the individual. Every object in the universe, from the atom to the star is composed of these two energies. When they are interacted with each other, creation happens and when they are separated they move back to their source and creation is dissolved. This is described as the total annihilation of matter; the same way as physics do.
All matter in this creation is alive and conscious. Therefore everything has potential and everything is alive. In yoga, consciousness and life are known as purusha and prakriti, in tantra they are named shiva and shakti. In hathayoga they are named pingala and ida and in taoism as yang and yin and in physics as energy and matter. They have different names in different times and philosophies.
Even so, the dualities of matter and energy can be translated to the human nature. We have a physical body but we also have a subtle counterpart too. So what happens on the inside when you think? What happens inside you when one thought results in the next?
In yoga, one should always keep in mind that the body, mind and the spirit are not three; they are one. At one level you see the body and at another you see it as the mind. The spirit is never different from the body and vice versa. They are one.
It's all about the focus – conscious breathing
The prana shakti and manas shakti are usually in an unbalanced and unharmonized form in us. Either of them are usually predominant over the other, creating imbalances in mind, body and spirit. Due to this imbalance, physical disease and mental diseases manifest. The techniques of yoga like asana (body posture), pranayama (the art of breathing properly) and kriyas (to focus the mind) is to bring these into better harmony and learn how to calm the nervous system and cleanse the body from toxins.
The nervous system needs to be trained since it is the carrier of impulses through the sensory and motor channels. For an uninterrupted flow of energy to pass throughout the body, it is vital that you move into pratyahara, or sense withdrawal. If not, then it is hard to meditate. Pratyahara is the bridge between the physical/mental and the subtle body awareness and of spirit.
The first tool to apply to move into pratyahara is learn how to breathe properly and through breath to start to move and direct energy, or Pranayama.
The subtle body is the energetic mold of the physical body. It is more accessible to the mind and consious control. On a subtle level, change is somewhat fragile and demands powerful intention. Once change on a subtle level has filtered down on a physical level it tends to be more stable. This means it is difficult to make and maintain change purely on a physical level. For example; a person can exercice and eat properly and perfect and yet be affected by ill health.
“Whatever controls Prana controls the minds and whatever controls the minds controls Prana”
– Hathayoga Pradipika 4. 21
Through breath our physical body is linked to the mind, and the mind to the life force, Prana. The breath enhances the mind-body connection, so when we start to cultivate the breath, we connect to our higher self.
The yogic texts and masters state very clearly that in order to balance the mind, one needs to control the prana inside. If prana is restless, mind becomes restless and vice versa. The mind is very difficult to control by the mind and the more ones tries the more the split grows. By practicing pranayama correctly, the mind is automatically stilled.
The general idea is that pranayama ought to remove blockages in the autonomic nervous system in order to have the breath run even in both nostrils.
When the flow is even in both nostrils, your nervous system is in harmony and you move easily into meditation and flow better with life.
- The breath is one of only two functions of the body that is both voluntary and involuntary (the other function is blinking). If we can master breath consciously, we can control other functions in the body like heart rate, blood pressure, and breath. Through the breath, we can access the parasympathetic nervous system and activate the relaxation response in the brain, which results in stress reduction for our entire system.
- Most people are not breathing to their fullest capacity, which actually means that the nerve cells do not get fully activated, which chokes the life force in us. Through conscious breathing, we can mindfully generate more oxygen for the body.
- Tightness or stress in the body often creates tightness in the breath. Think of wearing a body suit that is too tight — it is hard to breathe. When your body is tight and tense, you can’t breathe fully. You can be tight in your breathing body just like you are tight in your physical body. Some of this is physical strain impinging on the breath volume; some is emotional or mental blockage preventing us from breathing fully.
So the more we can learn conscious breathing the better. We enhance our quality of life via how we breathe. Welcome to my Pranayama Course where we embark on learning the magic techniques of pranayama.
- For further reading go to my YINYOGA book (Skyhorse Publishing)
Videos for you
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- Creating a space for the wild birds to settle down, by Eleonora Ramsby Herrera
- Yin & Restorative: The art of pausing – part 1, by Ulrica Norberg
- Yin & Restorative: The art of pausing – part 2, by Ulrica Norberg