Whatever moves in the Universe, whether it is either seen or heard, whether it is within or without, it is prevaded by Breath.
-The Maha Narayana Upanishad
It’s ironic that breathing can be so difficult for many people. I’m not talking about the obvious problems of drowning, suffocating, or suffering from asthma and emphysema. I’m talking about how little we pay attention to breathing in our daily lives and especially in a yoga class. Yes, especially in a yoga class. Even the concept of pranayama or breath work will make many a seasoned yogi roll up their mat and bolt toward the door.
Our state of breath provides a wellspring of information about our physical structure, our physiology, and even our mental state. And yet most of us don’t pay attention, or even know that this information is so readily available to us.
Srivata Ramaswami once told me that Asana reduces Rajas, the kinetic energy within your body, and then Pranamaya reduces the Tamas, the lethargy that is revealed once the Rajas is burned off. The resulting space left within us can then be filled with Sattva, a sense of lightness or clarity through meditation.
It’s our very breath that is key to reducing the heavy inertia of our own habits and destructive behavioral patterns.
So why do so many yogis avoid pranayama? Why is breathwork not taught regularly in Hatha and Vinyasa classes around this country? I don’t have the answer yet, and I may never really understand it. However, I refuse to sit back and keep this amazing practice to myself. I teach it in every Vinyasa and Hatha class I lead. I invite you to ask your teacher about it, tell them you are interested in this 4th limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras! Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.