Everything which is alive draws in life and expresses it in some manner akin to breathing. Some life forms do not always demonstrate a process we can easily observe but in the case of human respiration, it is obvious and must be sustained every few seconds in order to maintain a strong hold on life.
Our life begins at birth with an inhalation and our life will end at our last exhalation. From cradle to the grave, our respiratory function does not let us down except in times of accident or disease. Throughout the whole period of a life-span, our breath will continue without a pause in its interminable rhythm, keeping us supplied with oxygen and harnessing us to the ultimate Life Source, whether we are aware of the process or not and whether we are conscious of, or oblivious to the Source.
The majority of these breaths we take unconsciously, with many occurring in the hours of sleep. We routinely anticipate that when we go to sleep, our breath will continue, and that when we awaken the process will naturally be maintained. In total, our daily breaths are likely to number about 25,000. We take breathing for granted as it is so fundamental and dependable a physical process that its importance can be overlooked.
Yogis, however, over many centuries of studying human breathing have amassed valued information about the importance of the breath in regard to all aspects of well-being. This knowledge and the disciplines associated with conscious breath control are taught for the purpose of application in the individual’s practical art of living and is known as pranayama.
It is observed that conscious breathing has physical, psychological and also spiritual responses and benefits. It is by means of the breath that we remain physically alive. It also establishes the link between spirit and matter. It is our spiritual lifeline.
In other kingdoms it does not apply but in the human, each of us is free to take a conscious breath if we choose, or we can allow the automatic natural process to proceed unhindered by individual effort. The physical seat of control of our breathing is in the medulla oblongata at the nape of the neck and is influenced by the conscious and unconscious commands channeled through the central and the autonomic nervous systems.
The fact that animals cannot take a deliberate breath and hold it, or control it at will, and that humans can, indicates a vast chasm between the two kingdoms. The human capacity to exert free will to alter his breathing, change its rhythm and to some degree direct his life energies is not existent in the animal which breathes only instinctively and therefore unconsciously.
In contrast with animals, human breath allows us to speak, sing, or to chant. It represents the gift of creative language, so helping to establish our potentially noble position in the evolutionary world amongst the creatures on our planet. Through this power we are given the capacity to communicate thoughts, emotions, and aspirations as well as to describe physical and sensory states and experiences. It is the breath which allows use of words in our language that will communicate our inwardly created ideas, so establishing a bridge between the material and the subtle planes of human consciousness and intelligence.
We may be more familiar with the source of our fossil fuels and energy suppliers, than we are with the source of our very own life. Study of the breath and training in pranayama will awaken new interest and provide a means of increasing your own vitality and energy supply.
Breath and life are obviously twinned, as are breath and thought. It is the latter that offers us the potential to not only control our life energy but for us to query its Source.
So seek a Yoga teacher who is skilled both in the art of pranayama and in the spiritual aspects of Yoga philosophy!
Sally Janssen is a writer and educator who from an early age trained in Raja Yoga–that branch of the ancient science that deals with the mind and its complexities. She subsequently gained an international reputation for her skills and her wisdom in the training of the mind.
In her wonderfully readable book entitled Mental Fitness: The Complete Self-help Guide she presents simple, self-help practices that help to generate and maintain mental fitness just as the natural principles for physical fitness can be personally applied by us all. The book may be found here: [http://www.mentalhealthandfitness.com] This really is a must-read book for us all. You can also visit her blog at [http://www.mentalhealthandfitness.com/blog]