The primary element of life is derived from the air we breathe. In yoga, this subtle element is known Pranayama, or Prana which literally means “to extend the vital life force.” It is an incredibly rich practice, made up of many breathing techniques that can bring vitality and sustenance to our bodies.
Prana is not the air itself but the subtle life-giving element extracted from the air. The more life-force you have in your body, the more "alive" you are; the less life force; the less "alive" you are. Life force is present in all forms of nourishment. For example: activities that make you feel alive, eating whole foods straight from nature, being around other individuals full of life. However, the most potent form comes from air and sunlight. When we breathe, we take in oxygen, and we also take in a lot of prana. The oxygen gets diffused into the lungs and then gets into the bloodstream, while the prana goes throughout the body. Every cell of our body is nourished with new life.
The strongest expression of prana is the movement of our breath. With each inhalation, we draw subtle energy into our bodies. With each exhalation, we return carbon dioxide. I have found in my own practice and that of my students a full exhale can be a symbolic expression of letting go.
Let’s look at what is actually happening when we exhale. As we breathe out, we are releasing carbon dioxide. Because of our ever-increasing to-do list, most people are busy inhaling that they do not pay much attention to the exhale process. Without exhaling completely, excess carbon dioxide leaves a strong toxin in your lungs. This habit can lead to shallow breathing and holding your breath.
We have all caught ourselves holding our breath or shallow breathing in times of stress. Our breath is a reflection of our state of mind. Yogis have observed that the breath reflects the condition of the mind and body and it is a very accurate gauge of one’s mental state.
The ego is not something to be conquered. It serves a purpose in our life. Yet when the ego runs the show, we are consumed with the fear of not enough. The ego lives in a false world of perfection and scarcity. You may always have to be right, or perhaps take things a bit too seriously. The ego finds it difficult to find pleasure or play, because it is waiting for trouble. A symbolic exhale can connect our mind and body and perceive our true internal state.
By changing our breathing patterns with awareness of our emotional state, our mind and body can be affected and changed. When you do deep breathing, feel that you are inhaling a lot of vital energy. Hold your breath for a few seconds, while thinking that the prana is going directly to the place that you need it. Then when you exhale, feel that you are throwing out all that does not serve you.
When you notice your ego trying to run the show, try this technique to infuse your body with more life-giving energy. Wishing you deep peace!
Raechel is the founder and executive director of Grand Rapids Healing Yoga. She offers training, in therapeutic yoga, yoga therapy, and trauma informed modalities. She works with clients privately to help create emotional, mental, and physical release through yoga. By creating a safe and non-judgmental space for the client to explore their own personal patterns, Raechel offers a body-based therapy for creating change and transformation. She believes that each individual has the ability to find their own answers and discover their deepest Self when given the opportunity to be empowered, embodied, and explore. Raechel serves on the board of the Mind, Body, Being Project, bring Trauma Sensitive Yoga to underserved communities.