Prana is the life force that fills the cosmos. It is the energy that keeps every living being alive. We absorb this energy into the body to fuel life processes. Prana takes the form of sunlight, ground, and air. Breathing is one of the ways we, human beings, intake prana.
One of the marvels of nature is that our bodies do not need to be told to breathe. From the second we are born to when we die, we inhale and exhale without thinking about it. And in turn, we take in prana that energises us and keeps us healthy. The process is natural and rather effortless, and so, we tend to take it for granted.
However, the fact is that by being conscious of our breathing, we can improve our overall wellbeing. Dr Manikantan Menon, yoga and meditation teacher at Art of Living, goes a step further and says, “Your breath is the link between your mind, body and spirit.” And hence, by breathing with control and deliberation, we can regulate our life processes, modify our state of mind, and in turn, strengthen our spiritual practices.
While plenty has been said about how controlled breathing can help our bodies and minds function better, not many of us know how it helps us spiritually. In this article, Soulveda delves into the science of breathing to understand how doing it right can help one strengthen their spiritual self.
While it may sound easy, paying attention to one’s breathing all the time is a Herculean feat that only comes with dedicated practice.
Many of us may have noticed that our breathing is not uniform throughout the day. It varies according to the way we sit, stand or move–or in other words, our posture. Our state of mind and emotions too have an effect on the way we breathe. For instance, when we are angry, scared, or anxious, our breaths are quick and shallow. When we are happy and at peace, they are slower and deeper. We may also have noticed that the way we breathe changes how we react to various situations. No wonder we are often advised to take a deep breath, when we are stressed.
A calm and centered mind is better equipped for the path of spirituality. So, for any individual on the spiritual path, one of the most important objectives is equanimity–the ability to stay calm through the ups and downs of life. This can be achieved by taking measured breaths throughout the day, irrespective of one’s state of mind or external circumstances.
While it may sound easy, paying attention to one’s breathing all the time is a Herculean feat that only comes with dedicated practice. According to Patanjali Yoga Sutra, a combination of yoga asanas and pranayama exercises are essential for anyone taking the spiritual path. Explains Rajesh Jain, yoga practitioner and teacher, “Bending and flexing our body into a less than comfortable position and taking a certain number of measured breaths is how we train the mind to maintain rhythmic breathing during stressful times.”
“The quality of our breathing determines the prana or energy level of our body. Hence, by regulating our breathing, we optimise our prana and in turn get closer to achieving samadhi.”
When we learn to focus on taking steady breaths throughout the day, we become extremely alert and aware. We experience a sense of oneness with everything in the universe, and gradually, the sense of ‘I’ dissipates. This may sound vague and unattainable to most of us. Jain suggests a quick exercise to help us understand this experience. “Sit in an upright position in an open space and engage in fast, deep breathing for a couple of minutes. The second you stop, you will feel that every cell in your body is charged. You will feel extremely alert, aware. And for a split second or two, there will be no consciousness, no sense of ‘I’. This state of heightened awareness is one of the end goals of the spiritual journey. With sustained, dedicated practice of pranayama, one can eventually achieve a Kundalini awakening and make this heightened state one’s normal state,” he says.
Kundalini, according to yogic scriptures, is a reserve of energy at the base of the spine. Through the guided practice of yoga and pranayama, one can increase the prana levels in the body and eventually unleash this energy. When this energy ascends from the mooladhara chakra (base of the spine) to the sahasrara chakra (the top of the head), one is known to attain samadhi or a heightened state of awareness. On how pranayama is crucial to this accomplishment, Dr Menon says, “The quality of our breathing determines the prana or energy level of our body. Hence, by regulating our breathing, we optimise our prana and in turn get closer to achieving samadhi.”
Profound spiritual growth comes with steady breathing. And with the guided practice of recommended breathing exercises, one can progress in one’s spiritual journey while reaping countless other benefits. Besides a healthy body and a sound mind, one can achieve high energy levels, a profound sense of awareness and a serene state of mind.