Art of Breathing

Written by Jasleen Suri.

I sit cross-legged in the yoga studio watching the instructor take a deep breath, hold it and slowly exhale through his nose. He instructs us to do the same, telling us that it is important that we nourish our bodies with our breath.


I once read that we can live for days without food and water, but we can perish in a matter of minutes without air. Despite this, it is truly surprising how little attention we pay to our breath. As a result of our fast paced lifestyle, many of us do not pay attention to our breath, and have become shallow breathers, only using approximately 15% of our total lung capacity. Using normal breathing techniques, only 20 million pores in our lungs receive oxygen, while the remaining 53 million pores remain deprived of it. Pranayama, a word derived from Sanskrit, is essentially the art of breathing.

The yoga studio closest to my house has a Pranayama and meditation class every Sunday morning. Here we learn the different techniques for deep breathing. We come in the studio, carefully place our belongings on a cart, grab a yoga mat from the stack in the far corner, and roll it out on the hardwood floor. Our instructor, a young guy named Jay, demonstrates the difference between Bhastrika Pranayama and Kapal Bharti. We follow in unison, pumping our stomachs in and out for Kapal Bharti and covering our ears with our thumbs and placing all four fingers near the bridge of our noses for Bhastrika Pranayama.

In today's busy world, it is not uncommon that we rush from one place to the other: We are often hurrying to work in the morning, sprinting to catch our bus/taxis, and racing around the kitchen eager to quickly make dinner after a long, hard day. In all this, where do we find the time to truly connect with our inner beings? Where do we find time to focus on ourselves, our bodies, and our breath? To be truly healthy, we have to work from the inside out.

Many believe that Pranayama - the life force - connects the body and the mind, and is essential for our overall well-being. It is said that many ailments and disorders result from the prana (breath) being out of synch with normal body functions. In fact, researchers believe that if one can harness the breath, then one can maximize the flow of oxygen through the body, and one can even cure common medical ailments, such as asthma and stress related disorders. Regular practitioners of Pranayama also attest that it helps clear skin and reduce the signs of aging.

In our yoga class, Jay switches seamlessly to another Pranayama technique: Analom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing). I watch closely as he inhales deeply using his left nostril, his thumb firmly closed over the right one, fingers spread out in the air. I follow his lead, feeling ridiculously pleased with myself when Jay walks by, nodding his head in approval.

I first began attending classes after a friend convinced me of the importance of Pranayama. "It will make you a healthier and calmer person," she said. I threw my scepticism aside and gave her what she asked of me: Time and patience. After the first class, I felt...the same. Nothing seemed different. I still felt harried by my daily life. I didn't feel more relaxed. But, then, I started practicing Pranayama before going to work in the mornings, and even began employing the techniques when I felt the tell-tale signs of a tension headache creeping up at work, or when I was sitting in gridlocked traffic on the QEW. I knew I was a few deep breaths away from calmness and inner peace. And, being able to harness this feeling is what keeps bringing me back every Sunday morning.

Breathing Meditation Video
Here is a breathing meditation exercise that uses your breath to calm your mind. Try to sit for at least 20-30 minutes a day, keeping your mind completely focused on your breath.

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