Breathing is something of a miracle. Without any conscious effort, we breathe continuously over a lifetime, sustaining our lives. When we become aware of this remarkable process, we can derive a great deal of pleasure from it. Simply pausing to breathe in and out in awareness is a source of great enjoyment.
Pranyama is the art of breath extension (the Sanskrit word literally means “extending the breath”). The best-known form of this art is alternate-nostril breathing; it’s something that can help you to calm down very quickly in highly emotional situations. To practice it, simply close off one nostril and breathe in and out through the open one. As you do so, you may wish to silently say, “I’m aware that I’m breathing in.” Then exhale through the same nostril, saying, “I’m aware that I’m breathing out.” Finally, repeat the process with the other nostril. After you’ve completed three or four breaths in this way, you will feel refreshed and renewed, better able to deal with any stressful situation.
I often use pranyama as the starting point for my periods of meditation. It’s a wonderful way of slowing down the rapidly-wandering mind and calming a body under the influence of the fight-or-flight response to stress. I find that, by beginning with breath extension, I’m able to segue quite easily and naturally into a time of mantra meditation. The tendency of the mind to leap from topic to topic has already been somewhat ameliorated before meditation itself has begun.
When you focus on your breath, you focus on the source of life. Having done so, you will automatically avoid things that hinder breathing; such as smoking and polluting the air. You will intuit that poisoning your lungs and the environment is the same as poisoning your own body and mind. Taking time to breathe in full awareness daily — even for a very short time — can be a wonderful source of renewal.