The Simple Power of The Breath
Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s so simple. We do it all day, every day without thinking about it, even when we’re sleeping. However, the breath, when approached consciously, is one of the greatest tools we have. When we begin to breathe with attention, with intention, an ordinary breath becomes an extraordinary opportunity for transformation. We enter another dimension of respiration that transports the breath from a purely physiological function keeping us alive into a catalyst for arriving into a life in which we thrive.
What the ancient Yogis realized was that the breath holds power beyond its physiological function. It is the link between the body and the mind, as well as the conduit for prana, the vital force that animates all living beings. Prana energizes the gross matter of our bodies as it runs through subtle energy channels (nadis), and in order to remain vibrant, we need to maintain the health of the nadis which in turn purifies mind and body. Furthermore, the Yogis realized that in order to awaken to greater states of consciousness, it is essential for the mind and body to be pure and free from the debris that obstructs access to spirit.
This is where the breath comes in. When we breathe unconsciously, we typically only use a small portion of the inhalation and exhalation, which, granted, in no small part keeps us alive, but if we want to thrive, we need to access the full potential of the breath to not only purify the nadis but actually increase prana within our systems. Moving with the breath, as we do in asana, and directing the breath, as we do with pranayama, allows us to tap into the great power of this tool that is with us in every moment. And with enough practice of conscious breathing, it becomes the way in which we breath all the time, even without our thinking about it.
So the breath is the foundation of the practice, the very base on which the movement is sustained. In asana practice, we aim to move with the breath, allowing the breath to both initiate as well as complete the movement. In pranayama practice, we seek to control the breath in order to free it up. The very precise way in which we use the breath in our practice has great and lasting impact on all levels of our being.
One of the most important and essential pranayamas is the alternate nostril technique known as Nadi Shodhana. It purifies (shodhana) all of the prana pathways (nadis) and keeps our systems in balance. Nadi Shodhana can be done at any time but is most potent after shavasana following our practice.
To begin, sit comfortably with your spine upright, either cross legged on the floor or in a chair. Bring your right hand up, folding the first two fingers in toward the thumb pad. Place your thumb on the right nostril and your ring finger on the left. Exhale through both sides, then close off the right side, and inhale slowly through the left. At the fullest point of the breath, pause, close off the left, open the right, and exhale completely through the right nostril. At the bottom of the exhale, pause, and then inhale back into the right side, switching over at the top of the inhale to exhale through the left. Continue in this rhythm at a comfortable and easy pace for five to ten rounds, ending with an exhale through the left side. Once done, sit for at least a few moments more to fully take in the simple power of your own breath.