I can't count the number of times I've heard the expression "Control your breath, control your life" or some variation of that. I can't count that any more than I can count the number of times I've overheard a teacher reminding students to breathe during a Yoga practice - I'm guilty of that as well.
Teacher Training provided a basic understanding of the concept of proper breathing. Many books, and a class or two later I know I've only scratched the surface. I now consider breathing more-or-less an art-form. When you consider there are four main pranayama practices covered in a 200 Hr TT course: Deergha Swaasam (3 part breath), Ujjayi (victorious breath), Kapaalabhaati (breath of fire or skull-shining), and Naadhi Suddhi (alternate nostril breathing) that's quite a bit of information.
All four have their place in a pranayama practice: without question.
I am comfortable enough with my experience level to teach and monitor those participating in Deergha Swaasam and Naadhi Suddhi. In fact, I prefer the two. Yet, I continue to experience and experiment with Kapaalabhati and Ujjayi in my own practice. Thankfully I've taken a class or two that have only enhanced my knowledge in reference to practical application of these practices.
Suffice to say there are numerous techniques that can be learned to improve one's ability to breathe fully or 'more' fully. Of course there are obvious obstacles to breathing fully such as medical condition, etc. In short, consult your physician or licensed medical services provider before attempting any of the techniques described.
As a part of my teaching I emphasize deep-belly breathing. In my experience it's been the easiest to learn and what I would consider the basic building block for pranayama.
I've said all of that to say this: when it comes to deep breathing (fully breathing) you just forgot how to!
When a child is born (unless there is some sort of birth defect that affects the ability to breath) that child instinctively knows how to breathe. That baby takes it all in: he fills those lungs the moment he's patted on the fanny upon exiting the womb. It's a scene that is repeated several times a day every day of the week 365 days a year.
As that child grows he learns about the world and shortly becomes aware of the parasympathetic reflex system (fight or flight). It is then that, in my opinion, the child slowly 'forgets' how to breathe properly. Consider the times you yourself may have experienced a period where you cried as a child only to find yourself hyperventilating (extreme breathing). Have you ever been told that if "you keep crying you'll make yourself sick"? Only to go on and "make yourself sick"?
Hyperventilation is defined as "to breathe or cause to breathe at an abnormally rapid rate, so increasing the rate of loss of carbon dioxide." To get that under control some resort to breathing into a paper bag to relax their nerves (aka nervous system/parasympathetic system).
Continuing on: growing older that same child faces the stresses of the world, adding responsibility, meeting face-to-face with karma and the myriad of obstacles in life. The less than optimal health choices we sometimes make i.e. smoking. Also, living in unhealthy environments don't help anything either.
All of these stressors (external and internal) eventually take control of your breathing. You forgot 'how' to breathe. It's time to take control of your breathing once again! It takes time. It takes practice. In the end, all you have to do is remember what you forgot.
Remember to breathe….like a baby.
For more information about breathing and/or lung capacity and other FAQ's please check out the American Lung Association's webpage.
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