A student recently commented to me, “I’ve been breathing all my life. Why do I need to take a class to teach me how to do it?”
Of course you’ve been breathing all your life. But you probably haven’t been very conscious of how you breathe on a daily basis or what happens to your breathing when you are ill or under stress. We take it for granted that we will continue to breath all day, every day until we take our last breath. But our breath can tell us a lot about what is going on with our bodies.
The ancient yogis said that life consists of three stages: sunrise (from birth to about 30), midday (from about 30-70) and sunset (from 70ish on). Asana (the yoga postures), pranayama (breathing) and meditation all play different roles during each stage.
In the sunrise stage, asana takes priority over pranayama and meditation and serves to “get your ya-ya’s out”, allowing the excess energy of youth to help enhance overall well being. During the midday stage, all three yoga practices have equal importance in helping to maintain the balance during the (arguably) most stressful time of life. Pranayama and meditation rise to importance during the sunset time of life as movement (asana) takes a back seat to more esoteric practices in preparation for the slower pace of life and, ultimately, death.
So unless you are under 30, pranayama (breathing) really is a critical part of your general health and worth some study.
Krishnamacharya was an Indian yoga teacher and scholar, often referred to as the “father of modern yoga”. It is widely agreed that he is responsible for the modern day phenomenon of exporting yoga to the west by training the leaders of the most popular forms of yoga today (T. K. V. Desikachar, B. K. S. Iyengar and K. Pattabi Jois) and in making the ancient Vedic texts accessible to modern students.
In his teachings, linking the breath to movement was critical in yoga asana practice. He said that otherwise, you are just doing calisthenics. So as simple and basic as breathing may sounds, it is really is at the heart of yoga.
The ultimate goal of yoga is to maintain your body in a happy and healthy state so that you can truly get to know yourself and your potential. Isn’t that worth a little study?