The Connection between Breath, Prana, Mind and Body
The breath is the bridge between our mind and body. It is essentially our very life force! Learning to become aware of your breath and how to use breathing techniques can have a profound effect on the body, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.
In yoga we call this breath work ‘pranayama’, which literally translates to ‘control of vital energy’. Prana (vital energy) being the universal energy that sustains and flows through all living things. However our western descriptions of this subtle energy do not do it justice. We can’t actually translate the word into any western language because until recently our culture lacked the concept. The only exact translations of this word are ‘chi’ in Chinese, or ‘ki’ (as in reiki) in Japanese.
Prana flows through our body down channels known as the nadis (shown in image below). We have 72, 000 of these channels criss crossing in our body, with three main ones that run down the centre of the spine. The ida channel flows to the left of the spine, the pingala to the right and the sushumna channel directly down the centre. The ida and pingala channels cross over the centre of the body in seven different places, creating focal points of energy known as the chakras. There’s more on this in a previous blog post titled ‘The Chakras | A guide to the energy system in the body’.
For your body to be vibrantly healthy, prana has to be able to flow freely throughout. If a nadi becomes blocked, the prana cannot flow to that part of the body and it can become sick or weakened. One way to keep prana flowing freely is through breath work.
‘ Prana burns as fire; he shines as the sun.
He is the bountiful rain - cloud, and blows as the wind.
He is the earth and the moon; he has form and no form; Prana is immortality.’
- Prasna Upanishad
Your breath is also directly connected to your emotions and thoughts. Every emotional state has a corresponding breath pattern. Think about it - your breath increases when you get excited, a surprise may cause you to inhale sharply, deep focus can mean you hold your breath, sadness creates irregular breathing etc. Breath is the anchor to our present moment and by consciously working with the breath you can influence how you react to an experience.
It’s connected to everything! We understand this deep connection to the breath as children. If a toddler were to find you breathing irregularly or fast they would likely ask what was wrong. It’s an instinctive knowledge.
If our emotions and thoughts have such a big impact on our breath it makes sense that the same is true for the opposite. Learning to consciously slow and deepen your breath can have a big impact on your emotions and thoughts.
The benefits of conscious, slow breathing
Slow deep breathing happens when the body is most relaxed. This is the best state to be in for clarity of mind, rest, joy and ease, as well as for your physical body to work at it’s optimum level. By becoming aware of your breathing patterns and consciously taking deep, slow breaths you can easily enhance your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
There are many different breathing exercises you can do to create different outcomes in the body, however the simplest one to start with is taking slow, deep breaths through the nose, allowing your chest and belly to rise and fall fully. You’d be surprised how often you forget to breath deeply while going about your day.
Just some of the benefits of slow, deep breathing…
- You allow the diaphragm to drop downwards, the rib cage to expand and create more space for the lungs to inflate and take in more oxygen.
- Deep breathing removes toxins from the body and strengthens the immune system.
- Increases energy.
- Releases tension in the diaphragm and primary breathing muscles which can relieve many long term respiratory issues such as asthma and breathlessness.
- Calms the nervous system.
- Releases muscle tension and strain caused by shallow breathing (think how your body tightens when you’re angry or in pain and your breathing becomes very shallow).
- Improves circulation and the cardiovascular system, and research shows deep belly breathing can even prevent heart attacks.
- Increases blood flow to the digestive tract, helping with digestion, IBS and constipation.
- Increases ability to learn, focus and remember things.
- Relieves stress, anxiety, depression and negative thought patterns.
- Improves mood by elevating levels of serotonin and endorphins.
- Slows the ageing process by increasing anti ageing hormones in the body.
- Reinvigorates sexual energy.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Improves sleep.
- Helps release old traumas stored in the body.
- Allows you to reach higher states of consciousness.
- Deepens yogic practises.
- Balances the two energetic sides of the body.
- Encourages prana to flow freely through the nadis.
- Helps you adjust to change.
Although breathing is one of the most fundamental processes in the body, most of us give it little or no thought. Yet once it is harnessed it holds unlimited power in increasing our wellbeing!
Teachers and resources…