The breath is a source of some of the most profound lessons we can learn in yoga. Here are just a few of the ways the breath educates and expands us in practice (it is strictly coincidence that they all start with ‘p’):
1. Presence – the breath brings us into the moment-to moment awareness. When we are focused on our breathing, we are not anyplace else. This sense of pure presence allows us to see ourselves from a more spacious vantage point, and to be with ourselves free from distraction, thought, worry, and judgment. In this sense, the breath also functions as a product of awareness, awakening new or previously closed-off places in the body. Where there is awareness, there is breath.
2. Prana – the breath contains Prana, the vital force of life and the animating power of spirit. As such it is our most intimate link to the supreme intelligence of nature. When we breathe with the awareness that the breath is not only oxygen, but is prana, we remember the fundamental interconnection we have to all of life and to the source of life itself. In asana, we make space for prana to expand, blocks that hold us separate dissolve and we become available to the universal support that is actually available to us at all times.
3. Pulsation is the most fundamental characteristic of existence. From the cellular level to the cycles of the sun and moon, life moves in waves of contraction and expansion, turning in and going out, closing and opening, emptiness and fullness, self-reflection and action, creation and dissolution. The dance of the breath harmonizes us with this most essential process of being. It gives us the visceral experience of nature’s fundamental rhythm again and again and again. When we are conscious of it, it can teach us profound lessons about how to move back and forth between these two polarities to bring ourselves into balance.