Breath is Life

Yoga and Life

Breath is life. If you don’t breathe, you don’t live. It’s that important and that simple.

And while it can happen normally without our awareness, there are other times when the breath is shallow or irregular. The breath connects the body with the mind. When the mind is out of sorts (alignment), the breath goes out of sorts (alignment). And when the breath is out of alignment, the body goes out of alignment.

Just as our heart beats without our mind telling it to, breathing is a function that our body performs without our conscious awareness. Ever noticed how everything works just fine when you are asleep? That’s because the mind has been turned off. In fact, the more we are able to shut off the left hemisphere of the brain, where the memory banks and the analyzer and the critic reside, not only do we feel more at peace with ourselves and all that is, the more we allow the body to fall into its natural rhythms and the healthier it becomes.

The mind is a tricky thing. As Bikram says, “Your mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy.” So we must learn how to control our mind. And how do you do that?

Bikram Yoga is a beginning hatha yoga class. Hatha yoga is all about the body, getting it healthy and keeping it healthy. Raja yoga is all about the mind, meditation, prolonged concentration, learning to control the monkey mind or the “screw loose mind” as Bikram calls it. In the Bikram class, as your teachers, we keep you focused on the asanas, the yoga postures, and tell you just do, don’t think. The class is designed to be a 90 minute, open-eyed, guided meditation. Bikram says, “It’s my mind and your body.” All of this, along with the other challenges inherent in the Bikram Yoga formula, is to get you to shut off your mind and stop thinking while you focus instead on making your body do the asanas and thereby heal itself.

The breath and breathing techniques are at the core of virtually all yoga practices and Bikram Yoga is no different. Bikram Yoga begins and ends with a breathing exercise. They are designed to perform different tasks.

Pranayama deep breathing, beginning breathing, is a deep breathing exercise that teaches us how to fully utilize and maximize our lung capacity. Most people never come close to utilizing their full lung capacity and, therefore, never know what it’s like to have their blood and body fully oxygenated and energized. The process of isolating and using the muscles in the back of the throat to slowly draw the air to the lower lobes of the lungs allows us to fill the lungs from the bottom to the top. With just that aspect of the exercise the blood can become highly oxygenated and the mind relaxes. Add to that the arm and head movements, which release tension in the shoulders, gets the blood flowing throughout the body and warms up the cervical spine (preparing the body for the first back bend in Half Moon Posture), and the brilliance of the Bikram Yoga formula is clear.

Rest assured that every detail in the formula that is Bikram’s Beginning Hatha Yoga Class has been thoroughly thought out. There is method to the madness–the heat, the carpet, the mirror, the instruction, the series, two sets of everything, etc. By the time you’ve reached the end of the class and the final breathing exercise, Kapalbhati in Vajrasana, Blowing in Firm Pose, you have worked your entire body from the inside out, forcing all the major systems to work and to work together, you’ve sweat, purged and are ready to complete the detoxification process. Bikram refers to the final breathing exercise as the “final flush of the toilet” in which you release the last of the toxins from the lungs. It also works the abdominal muscles and massages the internal organs.

As you faithfully perform a regular Bikram Yoga practice, you will, without even realizing it perhaps, develop your patience, concentration, determination, discipline and faith and all aspects of your life will fall into alignment. My favorite of all Bikram quotes is, “You come to Bikram Yoga with a junk body, a screw loose mind and a lost soul, and just by doing the yoga everything comes together.”

Dr. Prem Sundar Das of Ghosh’s Yoga College in Calcutta, India, puts it a different way. He says yoga creates:

Rhythm in the Body,
Melody in the Mind, and
Harmony with the Soul

Keep in mind that it is the breath that connects the body and the mind which then opens the door to the soul. The breath is a necessary function to life, but it is much more than just that. It can also be a powerful tool in learning to control the mind. Many meditation techniques are based on focusing one’s attention on the breath alone.

Here’s a helpful tip for using your breath as a tool next time you find yourself confronting a problem or a stressful situation. There is always a solution to every problem, but the frame of mind that sees a problem and the frame of mind that sees a solution are not the same. Let your breath be the bridge between the two. Once you are aware of the problem or experiencing the stress, close your eyes and shift your attention away from the situation to your breath. See for yourself if, in only a few breaths, when you open your eyes again you aren’t more relaxed and able to approach the situation with a new perspective that will guide you to a solution.