On Prana and Pranayama
Conscious breathing is the key to releasing all of those uncomfortable blocked emotions and tension that we store in our body. Here freediving champion and yoga teacher Sara Campbell explores what prana is, and how pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) can help you feel better.
OK, take a deep breath in… a little deeper… now hold it… keep holding it… feel your body as you hold this breath… feel not just the expansion in your chest, but try to look for the more subtle feelings… energy travelling from your heart and lungs through your entire body… the vibration in your cells as they absorb this nourishment… a little longer… you can do this… go all the way to your limit, to the point where you can’t hold it any more…
And now exhale, close your eyes and notice how you feel. Take a few moments, really connect with yourself, visualising what is happening in your body, your abdomen and pelvis, in your chest, and all the way out to the individual cells of your eyeballs, the roots of your hair, the bed of your toe nails, deep within your internal organs… feel every cell respond to this inhale hold and the energy that it brings to you.
Now take yourself back to the moment before you found the link to this article, clicked, and before you took that deep breath in and really focused on how it feels to breathe, to breathe really deeply, and to push yourself to your limits. You were breathing, of that we can be sure, but you were very likely to have been breathing unconsciously, completely unaware of your inhale or your exhale, or the depth or quality of either.
From the moment we enter the world, until the moment we leave, we are breathing, and it is this breath that signifies we are alive. It is our most vital source of energy and without it we have just a matter of minutes on this planet. We can go for weeks without food, days without water, and yet only minutes without breath. Think about it. Our breath is really our most precious resource, connecting us to this life minute by minute, inhale after inhale, exhale after exhale. And yet despite this, we take it for granted.
So what, you may ask? If we breathe unconsciously, we stay alive, we do just fine in the world. We’re not on the verge of dying when we breathe unconsciously, so why should we bother to train our breath through pranayama (yogic breathing exercises)?
As humans we are unique in our ability to breathe consciously. If we consider our place as human beings in the vastness of the Universe, and consider all the millions of organisms that we could have been born as, being born as a human and having this unique gift to consciously control our breathing suddenly begins to seem a bit special. So what is the purpose?
Conscious breathing is the key to releasing all of those uncomfortable blocked emotions and tension that we store in our body as a result of unresolved arguments, unspoken resentment, hurt, anger, frustration, fear and the whole gamut of negative human perception. And when we can finally let go of all of that, we find that we have so much energy, which can be used to follow our hearts, fulfill our dreams and live to our full potential. THIS is why we should breathe consciously.
Breath is the most direct connection to awareness. When we breathe consciously, or hold our breath, all or our feelings seem heightened, intensified. This is an opportunity to see things that we might otherwise miss.
We are so busy in the modern world that we very rarely get the opportunity for stillness and to reflect on whether we are making the right decisions, following the right path. It’s very hard to discern between our own core values and those we inherited from our parents – who probably unconsciously took on the values of their parents, and of course the societal pressures and expectations dictated to each generation. We may feel stuck, frustrated, or just slightly uncomfortable and not understand why.
Being still with our breath enables us to find a peaceful place within us. When we sit still and practice pranayama with breath control and hold, or simply watch the flow of our breath, we soften the voices of our ego and the world around us that normally drive us, and through the stillness, are able to connect with the quiet, inner voice of our spirit – that which we really are.
I am sure you have had experiences when out in nature you realise something about yourself, or your life, which feels like a profound truth. This is what I’m talking about – walking, exercising, being in nature connects us to the breath and to the ‘pranic ocean’ – the field of energy that surrounds us all the time, and of which we are a part – enabling us to more readily hear and acknowledge the quieter but deeply powerful voice of our inner truth.
As a freediver, I have worked at the very extreme limits of pranayama practice, and have experienced the immense benefits and clarity that this can bring. The good news is that you don’t have to hold your breath for over five minutes, or dive to over 100m on one breath. Simply sitting and observing your breath can bring remarkable transformation and peace In itself.