THE IMPORTANCE OF BREATH
I still remember the gorgeous, sensual, sun-kissed Californian girl teaching a Vinyasa class during my trip to Indonesia back in 2013. She went completely overboard by almost moaning the words ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’ for every in- and exhalation we took during that class. For me, it seemed really overdone to put that much emphasis on something we are used to do automatically already.
Little did I know… As a kid, I always felt short of breath. I felt like a part of my trachea was blocked, which restrained me from breathing in fully. While exercising, my body somehow decided to not breathe at al, so whenever I was running, playing field hockey or when I was dancing, I had to stop often because I was close to hyperventilating. After multiple examinations in the hospital, doctors prescribed me with several types of asthma medication, even though my lungs seemed healthy and my lung capacity was perfectly fine. As you can figure, the medication did not make any difference at all.
Only a couple of years later, another doctor looked more closely into the way I was breathing. She noticed that my breath was way too high and that my belly was moving inwards while inhaling and outwards while exhaling. She helped me to become aware of my breath with the use of several exercises. She managed to deepen my breath and got my natural breathing to a healthy level. It is interesting, to say at the least: something that we are supposed to do so intuitively – one of the first things we do when we are born into this world – was actually really hard for me to do in a relaxed and natural way.
While my way of breathing had improved by this, I still always felt short of breath when dealing with stressful situations. I felt like my breath was stuck in my chest and tried everything to elongate the breath to a deeper level, forcefully using my neck and chest muscles. Clearly, no improvements were made by these attempts; it only invited more stress into my body.
In the fall of 2015, after a couple of years of practicing different styles of yoga, I discovered the Astanga Vinyasa practice. Every inhalation and exhalation was not only counted, which was new for me, but also manipulated with the help of a breathing technique called Ujjayi breathing. By slightly contracting your glottis, you make a hissing sound, which allows you to breath more evenly. It also calms down your nervous system, heats up your body and helps you to stay focused on your breathing properly. There was no escape, no space to distract myself and think of anything other than my inhalation and exhalation and the following movements. It was a big liberation for me.
And when you come to think about it… Our breathing has such a great impact on our lives. Just look at the metaphorical influence of breathing on our language: we heave a sigh of relieve when we hear we passed an important exam, we hold our breath when we are at the edge of our seat watching a scary movie and our breath gets taken away when we suddenly bump into the person we secretly have crush on. Our reactions to situations in life influence our breathing unconsciously, that is for sure.
But what if vice versa, we were able to use the breath to influence the quality of our lives? What if the breath could help us to remain calm and neutral in stressful situations and to tame our wild monkey mind that always seduces and distracts us? It is possible…
By getting more in touch with our way of breathing, we can become more aware of the influence of it and even start using our breath to improve the quality and longevity of our lives. The breath then becomes a vehicle to turn our awareness inwards, where we can notice and give space to the ripples on the surface of our being. For me, both Astanga yoga and Pranayama have made a big difference in becoming attentive to this fact. I finally can breathe freely now. …and exhale…