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The Breath

March 7, 2011
When the breath stops life ceases to exist. 

Oxygen is one of the vital elements keeping us alive. If we can inhale and absorb the correct amount of oxygen into our system then our entire being functions at peak performance. As soon as the body is under stress the lungs act as if they want to go on strike and the body holds the breath. This means that the vitality of every cell in the body is diminished. Most people are habitually lazy breathers, breathing into only one section of their lungs.

As a person inhales, oxygen passes through the windpipe into the lungs. The lungs are made up of minute air sacs covered with a webbing of tiny blood vessels. The oxygen then passes from the air sacs into the blood vessels and is transported by the red blood cells to every single cell of the body. The waste, carbon dioxide, moves in the opposite direction and is eliminated as one exhales. The lungs expand on the inhalation and contract on the exhalation. The diaphragm is the muscle situated just below the rib cage and acts like a pump, pushing up and down with each exhalation and inhalation, respectively. As the diaphragm pushes down it massages the liver, spleen and the intestines, stimulating circulation throughout the entire abdominal area.

The practice of different breathing techniques in yoga is called Pranayama. There are many different breathing exercises, each one having a different effect on the entire person. One exercise will heat you up and another one will cool you down. Most breathing exercises calm the mind and there is even one that makes me see colours.

There are times in life when things do not go altogether our way and this can affect how we feel. Attending yoga classes on a regular basis is an excellent antidote to the blues and depression. However, not everyone can or does go to yoga regularly so here are a few tips to help you. First, and most importantly, is the yoga breath (ujjayi breath). When you have control over the breath you have control over the body, the intellect and the emotions. Consider what happens when someone upsets you or makes you angry. First of all salt water comes out of your eyes and you start to shake. The level and tone of you voice rises and you probably say the wrong thing. How many times have you been upset and a week later you say to yourself “I wish I’d said…”, because it is only when your mind has cleared that you realise what you actually should have said in that situation. In moments of stress some people go so far as to throw the frying pan across the kitchen. And finally in those very stressful situations the breath catches in the back of the throat, breathing becomes difficult and you sob. If you can control the breath all else will follow and you will be in control of the situation.


Amber Land completed her yoga teacher’s training at Ananda Kutir Yoga Centre in Cape Town in 1992 and has been teaching yoga ever since. She is trained and teaches in the Sivananda Integral Yoga Style, incorporating what she considers the best aspects of other schools into her teaching. |

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