The breath governs movement, integration and connection, and is the link between mind and body as an integral part of the interplay within a dynamic feedback loop of our thoughts, breathing and nervous system, which includes the vagus nerve, proven to govern all the organs and functions of the body and mind. This energy network corresponds to the nervous system, in yoga terms, called the nadis, the subtle channels where energy is absorbed and flows through the body and mind. Therefore, when we control our respiration we control every aspect of our being.
Different patterns of breathing result in various affects, and understanding how to use this system is foundational to the science and practice of yoga, and constructing an appropriate and effective yoga posture sequence coordinating specific breathing methods with specific yoga postures that are tailored to the individuals constitution and condition and for the purpose of integrating the nervous system, resulting in a calm mind, clear senses and perception to become free from our repeated thought patterns. The first limb of yoga practice begins with using the breath to move our attention from desires to focusing on our goals.
Breath is often referred to as prāna, or life force. The system of Hatha Yoga is yoga postures coordinated with breathing that is based on balancing and increasing the flow of life force in the body in addition to balancing the nervous system. Prāna exists in all things, and is abundant in air, food, sunlight and water, and expressed through the breath. The key to understanding prāna and energy is breath. One who has strong lungs and good breathing capacity usually has abundant energy and when the mind is clear and balanced, the breath is even and rhythmic and the parasympathetic nervous system or “rest and digest” is dominant. When the mind is nervous and tense, the breath is strained and erratic and the autonomic nervous system or “fight or flight” is dominant. When we are in the “fight or flight” mode, our body and mind go into a cascade of chemical changes creating toxins and inflammation, putrefying and dulling our senses so that they are unable to perceive directly or interact with life skillfully.
When we can increase the prāna in our system by increasing our lung capacity, and steadying the breath to become even and rhythmic, the mind becomes clear and the nervous system becomes balanced with parasympathetic dominance. When the mind is nervous or tense, the breath is strained and erratic, depleting energy, and causing stress, strain and confusion or sympathetic dominance.
A Yoga and Breathing practice that is appropriately tailored to each individual, removes obstacles that inhibit clear perception and prepares the mind for the process of directing it towards a chosen goal.