We, humans, are a fantastic species. We take many things for granted and one of those things is our breath. We breathe involuntarily, we cannot force ourselves to not breathe. We can only hold our breath for a certain amount of time before we are forced to breathe again. We are not dolphins whose breath takes conscious effort. Dolphins can decide to stop breathing and will only breathe again if they choose to do so. However, we can make our breath conscious. We can focus on the breaths we take to change the quality of our breath.
The fourth limb of yoga is important: pranayama. Breath control is not an exercise that can be taken lightly. Done improperly it can cause harm. Done properly, some yogis believe that it can help us as humans live longer. For me, it helps in my practice to increase stability and balance. It also helps me to breathe through more challenging asanas. Initially, I struggle with pranayama and partly this was due to my not fully understanding what prana meant. Not fully grasping the importance of focusing on my breath even when told as a child to “count to ten and breathe”. That made no sense to me and it rarely, if ever, calmed me down.
What I have learned with yoga and the continued practice of breath control is just that, I have to practice! We are not taught how to breathe, we just breathe. This leads us to not understanding our level of control in regards to our breath. Off the mat, when I am feeling moments of anxiety, frustration, anger, or an emotion that threatens to take control of my behavior, if I am able to pause and breathe, I find that I am able to actually calm down! Not only calm down but also remove the fuzziness that comes into my head in high emotive states that lead to responses that are not the most productive. I am not saying this works all the time, it does not. Sometimes, I am unable to calm myself or relax. Yet, I believe that with continued practice, I will be able to achieve a firm grasp of breath control. Breath is life, to honor myself, I must also honor my breath (that also means brushing and flossing!).