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We don’t think about breathing too much, even though it’s vitally important to us. Because it happens automatically we tend to think everything’s taken care of.

But the breath is more than just “air in air out”; how we breathe affects how we feel, how much energy we have, even body temperature and mood are affected. The practice of pranayama is an ancient method for controlling energy in the body and mind.

Modern medicine acknowledges that improper breathing can cause stress, asthma symptoms in otherwise healthy people, even affect the heart (many sleep apnea sufferers have heart problems due to a lack of oxygen during sleep). Learning how to be aware of your breathing patterns and changing them for the better may be the best way to begin reversing many health problems.

In the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, the ujjayi breath is the first one taught – deep, slow, even inhale and exhale breath, and sound in the throat – because it’s simple to learn and profound in its effect. Ujjayi is heating to the body and calming to the mind, and because the inhale breath is equal to the exhale breath in length with no holding of the breath it will over time create balance in the other systems of the body. When the practitioner has gained reasonable mastery over ujjayi breath and the asanas (postures) together, more advanced breath control methods may be learned. In the tradition, practicing incorrect pranayama can create disease while proper practice will alleviate and/or prevent disease.

In your daily life, notice your habits regarding your breath – is it shallow, rapid, uneven? Can you notice what you feel like emotionally when you breathe this way? Try deepening your breath, slowing it down, make it even and smooth; how does this change how you feel?

In my university courses many students note that after class they feel more relaxed, calmer, more focused. They are asked to practice ujjayi breath and reminded to return to it when they forget. Parallels are drawn between their Yoga practice and their daily lives and examples given to illustrate how Yoga can be brought into their interactions with others. For most, this is the first time they have thought of “exercise” being a mindful practice though it is hoped that it won’t be the last.

In the grand scheme of things, our practice is really an attempt to bring deeper meaning to the word “Yoga”; think of Yoga as the art and science of becoming fully conscious, a means of becoming aware of the inner workings of each cell in our bodies, how the energy flows in it, and how the same process (even in different forms) occurs in all other living things. And as “Ayurveda” is the science of life itself (and Yoga is a part of Ayurveda), this awareness transcends the mere physical workings of our being and extends to all aspects of living.

Through this awareness we can Begin to Realize, Embody, And Transmit Healing Energy to others in whatever form we choose….

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