Breath: The Vital Life Force That Connects and Inspires
Plus... please consider sponsoring me! I'm doing a ration challenge this month, to raise money for refugees...
The first thing we do at the start of a Holistic Yoga or Somatics class is to bring our attention to the breath. We become curious as to how our breathing feels in this moment. How fast is it? What is the temperature, humidity and speed of each inhale and exhale? How does the body welcome this particular breath inwards? How does our spirit feel as we contemplate the flow of air from our lungs into the space around us?
Becoming aware of our breath, the movement of vital life force both within and around, us is unquestionably the most important aspect of our yoga practice.
Prana is the Sanskrit term for both breath and life force energy. All life on earth, indeed the whole field of manifest reality (prakriti) is imbued with this life force. Prana exists all around us, it is akin to a sponge in the ocean, which both lives within and is made up of salty seawater. As such, air fosters our connection to all that is, and all that has ever been.
Every breath we take contains molecules that, at one time or another, have been breathed by, or somehow been a part of, other living organisms. In reality, all the atoms in our environment are recycled, every day we breathe in a bit of Earth’s history. And each breath we take is full of olfactory information about the local animals, plants, trees, soil, cuisines, fuel use and cultural practices.
Breath weaves us into the web of life. It also serves as a barometer of our inner states of mind, body and spirit. If our resting breath rate is fast then we’re likely to be stuck in an overactive response to the stress of life. It’s a sign we need to tend to ourselves, to create a sense of safety and ease. The quicker we can move from a state of stress to a calmer state, the more resilient we become.
Yoga breath practice helps us to tune our nervous systems, enabling us to apply the vagal brake (that is to switch on our rest, digest and repair systems) at will. In a world where there is "a pill for every ill”, it is empowering to realise that we have personal control over our body’s physiology. If we harness the power of breath we get to lessen our reliance on drugs, gadgets and health practitioners. The simple act of mindful breathing in a particular way enables a shift in our parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us rejuvenate and restore ourselves.
Here are some cool facts about breath:
The total lung capacity of an average adult is about 6000ml however we cannot reach it through breathing, there will always be some spaces in our lungs that aren’t filled with air.
The average amount of air taken in during inhalation is called tidal volume. Our height, age, gender and weight all affect this figure. Taller, thinner, younger males have greater tidal volume. Generally, it is around 500ml.
Diaphragmatic breathing at around 5-6 breaths per minute is the most efficient way to get oxygen to your cells. This puts most people into a state of parasympathetic dominance (the relaxation response).
In full diaphragmatic breathing, the diaphragm moves downwards by around 7-10cm, taking the kidneys along for the ride! The heart stays still thankfully, resting upon a firm platform in the centre of the diaphragm.
Chest-breathing is not all bad… it is the most efficient way of breathing if we are exercising intensely, it enables faster oxygen exchange and transport to cells in need of replenishment. Chest breathing puts us in a state of sympathetic drive (stress response) which is great for a short burst of activity, but not ideal long-term as it is more inefficient than diaphragmatic breathing.
Breath is the key to changing our state from stressed to calm. Whatever view we take of breath - philosophical, scientific, energetic or for health - it’s magical, wonderous and vital to our everyday life. Perhaps this it deserves more of our attention?
Breath practice also forms a part of the free weekly meditation I offer on Zoom on Monday mornings at 8 am BST. Join us tomorrow, to start your week in a way that is nourishing, supportive and uplifting.
On the 19th - 25th of June, I’ll be doing the Ration Challenge. This means I’ll be living on the same rations allocated to a Syrian refugee, living in an urban camp in Jordan. The aim is to show solidarity with and raise money for, refugees all over the world. You can find out more and donate on my special Ration Challenge page here.
420g of rice
170g of lentils
85g of chickpeas
A tin of sardines (I’m having some tofu instead)
A tin of kidney beans
A coupon representing 330ml of vegetable oil which you will need to supply yourself
I have two food ‘coupons’ for additional rice and flour.
Note the lack of vegetables, fruit, tea, nuts…
For a foodie like me is going to be hard!
Join My Ration Challenge Team
I’ve joined a team started by a fellow yoga teacher, also on the Yoga Therapy training. We’re called Team Ahimsa… If we get four more people to join our team then we can share our spice choices… Because I’m in a team, I’m allowed one spice (I am debating what that will be… I think it will be ginger). Would you like to join the challenge and our team?? Reply to this email and I’ll send you the link.
…Or Consider Sponsoring Me
If it seems too much of a challenge (I totally get that!) then it would be wonderful if you would be willing to sponsor me. I’m trying to raise £600, so far I’ve reached around £125 and that means I can use salt, which is a relief!! If I raise £250 I get to have a vegetable. I’d really appreciate that. You can find out more and donate on my special Ration Challenge page here.
Thanks you so much!!
With love and good wishes,