By breathing more deeply into the body, we expand the overall capacity for breath, which in turn increases duration. This slowing down calms the nervous system and affects many other interrelated physical systems.
As we slow down, we begin to see our inner landscape more clearly. At this stage of the practice, we can observe how subtle patterns of thought and emotion impact the breath. As we meet these patterns and let them go, breathing changes.
As we practice, releasing judgment as to how we breathe becomes critical. Breathing patterns develop over the course of our lives as a result of all of our experiences, with many characteristics having been acquired from our parents or other people close to us. As we begin to undo unhealthy breathing patterns, it is essential that we accept where we are and where we have been, in order to move on.
With continued refinement of the attention, breath awareness can become a feature of everyday life. This development of our breath awareness can be enhanced by exploring pranayama. Pranayamas, roughly translated as breath practices or breath control practices, are a range of traditional, powerful yogic breathing techniques. Pranayama features as one of the eight limbs of classical yoga as described by the of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, and range in their objectives ,intentions and difficulty.
There are dozens of pranayama techniques and a comprehensive description of these techniques. They can support the IYO Yoga therapy process in some instances, but the more advanced techniques tend to require a deep practice and the guidance of an experienced teacher.
Over time, simple breathing practices can help increase breath capacity and encourage breath flexibility. Since breathing begins deeply within the body, we can clearly perceive multi-directional expansion as the in-breath enters the body. Our breath becomes fuller, deeper and more even. It requires less effort, bringing deep calmness to the mind.
When adding a new breathing pattern to our practice, it is equally important to put it down afterwards so that we don’t get caught in a new pattern of breathing without realizing that we have taken it on. I have often encountered students who have extensively explored one breath technique and have unconsciously adopted it whenever they do IYO Yoga. This can be as limiting as the restricted patterns experienced as a novice.
By cultivating a breathing practice, we enhance awareness of our aliveness, notice our patterns and habits, and expand our capacity for change. All of these aspects occur as we improve the overall quality of the attention we place on our breathing. Flexibility in breathing could be considered the precursor to more flexibility in other areas of life and in this regard, the way we breathe becomes a metaphor for how we approach our lives more generally.