Learning How To Breathe

We all do it. Everyday. All the time. But, do we really pay attention to breathing?

Last week,  I learned how to breathe better. No pranayama. No alternate nostrils. No 32 second retentions. Nothing fancy at all.

Just plain vanilla inhales and exhales.

As part of Dr. Ganesh Mohan’s Svastha Yoga Therapy Program, I watched my breath for 40 hours. I did deep belly breathing. I learned about the anatomy of the lungs and reviewed the movement of the diaphragm. I pursed my lips when exhaling and discussed how to help students with asthma get more out of their yoga practices.

I felt my friend Robin’s ribcage…from the back, bottom and sides. I practiced parsvokonasana and pavrita trikonasana to open my side ribs and improve lung function.  I relaxed on my back and stood on my head. I watched my lungs inflate and sensed where my breath got caught and didn’t flow smoothly. I observed which nostril was more open.
Throughout all these activities, I observed the breath and had one of those simple and profound realizations that come up when I am deeply engaged in my yoga studies.  Most days I let my breath catch up with my body.  My mind stuff chatters faster than my breath too. I race to the subway or to catch the next elevator or I answer a text or email before I’ve exhaled.

I’m doing it all wrong.

I need to let my body and mind catch up to my breath so that my being is better integrated. Paying attention to my breath gives me time to weigh the details of my decisions. Witnessing whether my breath is shallow and high in the lungs vs. deep and low in the belly makes me understand how confident I am in a situation or how much anxiety I am experiencing.  Watching my breath is the single most accessible way to become more “advanced” in my practice because it takes me to the next kosha or sheath of my being. I can be more present in the Pranamaya kosha vs. the Anamaya kosha for a longer time.

My breath is available 24 hours a day and is absolutely free of charge. It is the perfect teacher.

–Brette Popper


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