Breath is the foundation of our being. So basic we may never, ever have to think about it. But when you do, you can open yourself to new worlds of experience.
My introduction to breath work was in Mexico, living in a small community learning how to farm, live sustainably, and practicing yoga. Ceremonies involving cacao, Ayahuasca, and Peyote were held on the land I helped tend, but what stuck with me most was what happened to me during a ceremony that involved imbibing nothing but air—using a breathing technique called Kaphalbhati.
This is a simple technique, a long passive inhale followed by a quick, forceful exhale, during which you are consciously letting the diaphragm/stomach expand and contract, respectively. I discovered that when you listen to the breath, everything else happening on that subtle level starts to become clearer. Oxygen rushed in to the places where I was holding tension and left me feeling incredibly in-tune with my body. The experience was indescribable.
The beneficial effects of breath awareness and breath work are not just metaphysical—they are scientifically quantifiable. A 2009 study by the Yoga Research Foundation in Bangalore, India, found that practicing high frequency breathing techniques, such as Kaphalbhati, increased the availability of neural resources, implying a higher state of mental functioning. The same year, Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi reported positive effects of both fast and slow breathing techniques on patients with hypertension. Slower breathing techniques, such as Anuloma Viloma, have been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve, triggering the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body and lower blood pressure. The science of yoga is becoming more clear as research continues to codify the benefits that people have felt for centuries.
Getting in touch with your body through simple awareness is the beginning . Everything starts with simply paying attention. Learning how to shift your awareness from the coffee stain on your shirt to your breath, from an itch on your shoulder to the orientation of your hips, from a source of pain to a source of peace. Yoga is the practice of noticing, and it’s through noticing how you feel that you can start to work on changing whatever isn’t working for you. Not just physically—thought patterns, shallow breathing, cycles you find yourself slipping into—anything. And you may find that the more you become aware, the more you want to practice.
That’s why they call it a practice—not a place, not a moment, not a way of being. You’re never ‘done’. Coming to classes can be the way to get the consistency needed to develop your practice, with the camaraderie of your cohort, the support of an instructor, and the space to open up. Please come join my classes, where breath work is a crucial aspect of the practice.
Kelli Daffron is a gifted yoga instructor. Kelli earned her 200 hour Sivananda Teacher Training accredited by the American Psychological Association, the Yoga Alliance, and the Association of Social Work Boards.
See a list of Kelli’s classes at RiversZen.com/schedule
Kelli’s full profile is included on the RiversZen Instructor Page
Breath and Stress – A RiversZen Reflection