Deep breathing helps decrease tension, increase energy, improve concentration, and promote physical and mental health. You may be familiar with the word prana, a Sanskrit word that translates as “life force energy,” or what is known in Chinese as chi. Prana, which “rides the wave of the breath,” is distilled from the air we breathe. Pranayama is a means of controlling and extending the breath in order to use it as a tool to regulate one’s physical and/or emotional state.

We rarely pay attention to our breath. And why would we? It’s as automatic as, well, breathing. Unfortunately, many of us have developed poor breathing habits over the years, using a small percentage of our 5-quart lung capacity, leading to loss of energy, respiratory problems, mental confusion, increased tension, and illness. Through yogic breathing, we can learn how to become mindful of and observe our breathing pattern. If you pay attention, chances are you’ll find your inhalations and exhalations are shallow and most likely you tend to breathe high up in your chest.

Shallow breathing doesn’t properly oxygenate the system, allowing toxins to build up. No wonder we often feel tired and sluggish by the end of the day. Full, deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing floods oxygen to the system, nourishes the blood cells, and removes harmful toxins. The result is enhanced skin tone, better posture, fewer respiratory problems, higher levels of energy, improved concentration, and a feeling of overall well-being and health.

Our breath also controls our emotions. As we breathe, so we live. When we are angry or stressed, we breathe rapidly or may even hold the breath, which increases the level of tension. Our muscles become tight, our pulse increases; that, in turn, shortens the breath, which increases tension, which shortens the breath…and on and on it goes. The next time you are tense, try to breathe deeply. With each slow, even breath, feel the tension begin to dissipate as your muscles relax. It is nearly impossible to remain in a state of heightened tension if your breath follows a long, rhythmic pattern.

Deep breathing can be done throughout the day, while you’re waiting in line, working at your computer, or sitting in rush hour traffic (breathe, breathe!). Don’t wait to get onto the yoga mat to breathe correctly. Incorporate it into your daily routine and reap the benefits of increased metabolism, improved complexion, healthier lungs, a stronger immune system, better concentration, and reduced levels of stress.

Remember to breathe!

~ from Essential Yoga by Olivia H. Miller