I am always saying this to my yoga students, especially when they are holding their breath throughout some of the more difficult poses.
It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget. As we are faced with any kind of stress, tension, effort, or adversity, the tendency is to hold our bodies tense, and the breath can become shallow, lost even.
Think of how you hold your breath when it gets to the scary part of a film, it’s the same phenomenon. We literally forget to inhale and exhale because we are distracted by what seems to be a more pressing matter.
Yet, nothing can be more important than breathing. Not just in yoga class, but in the bigger picture.
“As on the mat, as in life” is another well-worn phrase of mine, which I use to explain how much of what we experience throughout a class is a reflection of our experiences in the wider world. If you’re forgetting to breathe properly when you exercise, chances are you are neglecting it throughout your working day.
Breathing, along with heartbeat, is one of the key indicators that we are alive, yet it is so often overlooked in terms of fitness and wellbeing. Not so much in the East as here in the West.
In many Eastern cultures they maintain that when you master the breath, you master the mind, and furthermore, when you master the mind, you master the body.
For me, learning pranayama, or breath control, whilst in India, was literally life-changing. It was one of the most powerful methods of mind and body control I had ever come across, and has become a daily practise.
I find that to take the attention back to the breath, to sit quietly and watch the breath, even for “ten deep breaths”, can be all it takes to change my state of mind, and body. I’m calmer in mind, less tense in the body.
It is like the little reminder I need to come back to the present moment, to stop running around on auto-pilot, at the beck and call of my conditioned responses. I remember to let go and be present, to take respite from the constant chatter my head, and the whirlwind of activity around me.
Through practise of breath control, I am able to access it when I need it. When things become stressful, I tell myself “don’t forget to breathe”, and the more I do it, the more I feel like I am in control of my life, or at the very least my responses.
Just that small modicum of control we seem to have can make the world of a difference. We may not be able to control what is happening to us, but we can at least feel like we have control over how we respond to it.
When we learn to control the breath, we literally become more empowered, and this feels good, so we do more of it.
As the old Chinese saying goes:
“If you know the art of breathing, you have the strength, wisdom, and courage of ten tigers”.
So, if you want to be less of a worrywart and more of a tiger, don’t forget to breathe.
As published in the Monday edition of the Express and Echo http://www.expressandecho.co.uk.