The mind is the musician, the body is the instrument and breath is the tone. Play well and engage in skillful techniques to enhance your well-being.
This quote is from one of my all time favorite yoga teachers, Nevine Michaan. Every Wednesday I would make the effort of travelling for upto 60 minutes on the subway just to take her hour long Pranayama class and two hour asana teacherâ€™s class. It was the highlight of my week. I honestly felt â€œhighâ€, happy, euphoric every time I could spend those 3 hours with Nevine. This past summer, Nevine took some time off from teaching and I havenâ€™t had a class with her in months. What I miss most of all, is her Pranayama class.
Pranayama is the art of using breathing techniques in the same way we use asana (yoga postures) to enhance our well being. It all boils down to â€œif you arenâ€™t breathing, you arenâ€™t alive.â€ literally! Our breath is our life force, it informs everything and it is the best measure of how well our body is functioning. One of the first things a doctor does at a check up is examine our breath with his stethoscope. When we take our breath for granted, we miss out on each amazing moment of our life. When I spent an hour each week actively participating in my breath and manipulating it in different ways, I was effectively changing and altering my body and mind in a positive way. My mind felt lighter, my vision clearer, my spine more supple and my energy more focused.
Without the emphasis on the breath, yoga is just stretch class. The ujayii breathing and attention to our breath in each pose is what really makes yoga special. Another Nevinism is â€œthe sound the ears like to hear most, is the oceanic sound of the breathâ€. Imagine you are holding a seashell to your ear and make your breath sound like the oceanic sound inside the shell. Ocean breath is one of the easiest ways to calm the mind. If only I had learned it when I was an overly sensitive young girl and there were times Iâ€™d break down and cry uncontrollably. My dad would say â€œyoung lady thatâ€™s enough, now quit cryingâ€â€¦but maybe it would have been better to say â€œstart breathing!â€. In times of stress, sadness, panic, break down, etc. we tend to hold our breath. The best way to let go is to exhale, just sigh it out. Nevineâ€™s classes often started with kapalabhati which is short, sharp exhalations through the nose. I think we have to clear out all the stale air in the lungs and stale thoughts in the mind first, then fill up with fresh new oxygen.
It seems silly to practice breathingâ€“something that is so automatic to us; and yet, it really is an incredible instrument and tool that we all have access to. It is also the 4th limb in Patanjaliâ€™s eight limbs. We can orchestrate our life in the direction of our own breath. If we truly learn to sit and listen to it and enhance it and use it to our advantage, there is no telling what we can do. Our breath is our potential. Our breath is our music. Listen to your own special tune, play the music you want to hear, listen to your own innate rhythm. Remember no one else can breath for you, only you can breath for yourself. Tap in to that energy daily and share it with the world. Inhale, Exhale.