Breathing is important to yoga in much the same way that breath is naturally understood to be important to life; it is an essential part of living. Each breath delivers oxygen not just to the lungs, but to every cell in the body, nourishing the body and helping it to thrive.
In yoga, however, the concept that breath equals life is taken a step further, understanding breath as pranayama, which translates from Sanskrit to life force extension, associating the length of breaths taken with the length of life one will live. The longer the breaths or the fewer breaths taken per minute, the longer one's life will be. The shorter the breath or the more breaths taken each minute, the shorter that person's life will be. Yoga practitioners also focus on deep breathing, rather than the shallow breaths most people breathe mindlessly throughout the day, in order to increase the amount of oxygen entering the body, providing further nourishment to the cells.
Vinyasa (which translates from Sanskrit to breath linked to movement) yoga connects each breath to movements of the body, using breath to increase the mind's awareness of the body. By concentrating on breath in any type of yoga practice, the focus on the act of breathing is moved from the brain stem's medulla oblongata (the part of the brain which carries out automatic bodily functions) to the cerebral cortex (the part of the brain which handles active thinking and emotions). This replaces any distraction from other thoughts with the focus on the breath, quieting the mind and allowing it to connect directly to the body's movements.
Different types of yoga incorporate different breathing practices such as Deergha Swasam (deep breathing using the belly), Kapalbhati (quick, forceful exhalation using abdominal thrusts), Nadi Suddhi (breathing with alternating nostrils), and Viloma (breaths paused during inhalations and exhalation). Despite their differences, all of the practices strive to control, lengthen, and concentrate on the breath in order relax the mind, strengthen the connection between the mind and body, and increase longevity.
Try out these new breathing techniques in a yoga class today!
Hailing from East County San Diego, Kaleen Moran (she/her) is an English major at Cuyamaca College and a young yoga enthusiast. Her free time is spent out in nature, whether her feet are on the trail, nose is in a book, or notebook and pen are in her hands. She finds solace in mountain tops, her dogs and cat, books and poetry, good vegetarian food, and the loving embraces of her family and friends.
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