Week 5 Philosophy: Breath Awareness

“Regulate the breathing, and thereby control the mind.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

In the practice of yoga, Pranayama is the creation, distribution, and maintenance of the energy in the body, first through the awareness of and then the control of the breath. It is through Pranayama that we start to connect our physical body with our mind and to build a bridge between the physical and mental aspects of yoga. In this way, Pranayama is not only an important part of our yoga practice, but can become a tool for our daily mental and emotional health.

Step One: Breath Awareness
We first begin to learn Pranayama as a practice independent of Asana and typically lying down in a supported position. (See this week’s short and sweet sequence). Before “regulation” we need to make sure we even can focus on the breath to gain some sensitivity apart from the moving body.

Practice for breath awareness:

  • Are you able to stay focused on your breath? For how long?
  • Are you sensitive to the patterns of breath? Is it shallow or deep? Inhale easier than exhale? One side filling faster then the other?
  • Are you able to observe the effects of that breath on your physical body and on your state of mind? Not just during, but how do you feel after?

Step Two: Breath Regulation
Once you learn how to maintain an awareness of your normal, regular breath, there are numerous regulations with varying effects. Light on Pranayama by B.K.S. Iyengar is a treasure trove of information on Pranayama – from basic anatomy, to in-depth philosophy, to every Pranayama that might be used to help your daily issues.

Practice some basic breath regulation this week with the short and sweet sequence provided!

Step Three: Breath in EVERYTHING!
From simple awareness in Savasana to regulation of breath in a more structured pranayama practice, you bring sensitivity to your asana practice and life. Being aware of how your breath changes in response to your mental, emotional, and physiological states, you can then use your breath to work in reverse to recenter and rebalance yourselves throughout your day.

Practice Breath in Everything!

  • As you practice or as you go through your day (in action), can you become aware of your breath?
  • How does your breath change (or not) in different postures or life activities?
  • How does your breath activity effect your mental state (or visa versa) in certain situations on and off the mat?
  • Can you use breath as a barometer for how to work better in a pose or change your reaction in life?
  • Are you able to maintain the balance between effort and steadiness (abhyasa and vairagya – see week 1 philosophy) in the breath as you practice the asana? **Hint: Inhale is effort and exhale is steadiness.