It’s kind of a no-brainer to say that breathing is important to our health and well-being. I mean, hello, we literally can’t live without breathing.

forest sunbeamsI think of my lungs as dense, primary forest—they absorb and expel toxins, feeding my blood with balanced amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide, keeping my cells happy and my mind free from agitation.

Once in while, I momentarily lose site of the forest and have a hard time finding my center. But reestablishing peace is as simple as placing awareness on my breath.

For that reason pranayama, or control of energy flow through breathing, is the root system of my yoga practice (prana means life force and yama restraint or control).

Over the years, one particular form of pranayama has been especially helpful to me. Ujjayi breathing, a steady nasal and ocean sounding breath, has strengthened my fortitude in enduring two-plus hours of self-led Mysore practice and keeps me in check when I’m feeling unyogic. All types of pranayama have contributed to my experiencing a delicious level of concentration.

Studies in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine have shown that yogic breathing techniques prove effective in treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I tell ya, this breathing stuff is powerful! Just consider how pranayama benefits body and mind:

  • reduces anxiety and depression
  • increases breathing capacity
  • ushers in anti-aging effects (it makes me feel 10 years younger!)
  • boosts immune system
  • improves cardiovascular health
  • sharpens mental processes
  • strengthens the digestive system

Inhale, Exhale

Pranayama offers bonus benefits. Taking a deep breath has saved me many a time from saying or doing something I’d otherwise regret. Like when I’m on the verge of saying something very unyogic to my hubby or kids… I back up from that ledge and click into the breath again.

As with any other aspect of yoga, pranayama is an experiential process. Only you can know and feel how it works for you.

So give it a whirl. The next time someone or some situation starts pushing your buttons, hit Pause on your reactive mechanisms and notice your breathing. It may feel tight and limited to the upper chest. Once you’ve taken note of any constraints, feed more air into your lungs, breathing in and out of the nose.

Observe how your belly softly expands outward as you inhale. Then perceive what relaxes as the fresh oxygen travels from your navel up into the lungs and maybe even reaching the tips of your shoulder blades. As you exhale, your belly softly contracts again, like a hot air balloon losing heat.

Imagine your breath is an ocean tide rolling into and then away from shore. On your next breath in, the tide recedes. With your very next exhale, the tide gently flows over the back of your throat, making a soft crashing sound.

And how do you and your breathing feel now?