7 Reasons You Need to Breathe Right Now

Where is the conflict when the Truth is known,
Where is the disease when the mind is clear,
Where is the death when the breath is controlled,
Therefore, surrender to Yoga.
–Poem by  T. Krishnamacharya

As aspiring yogis we recognize the significant mental and physical benefits of breath awareness.

Isn’t it incredible how a little focused attention on an involuntary physical process like breathing can have such an immediate, dramatic, transformative effect on our lives?

So simple an action, yet so easy to overlook when we step off our yoga mats.

With its mind-altering benefits, the breath truly resides at the heart of yoga.  Indeed, there’s no better way to bring that amazing yogic feeling into every second of our lives than to reorient our awareness on the simple movement of our breath.

It’s easy to breathe when standing on the yoga mat, but there are so many other times in our lives when a few deep breaths can make all the difference.  Here are seven:

  1. If you feel stressed out and overwhelmed, breathe. It will calm you and release the tensions.
  2. If you are worried about something coming up, or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. It will bring you back to the present.
  3. If you are discouraged and have forgotten your purpose in life, breathe. It will remind you about how precious life is, and that each breath in this life is a gift you need to appreciate. Make the most of this gift.
  4. If you have too many tasks to do, or are scattered during your workday, breathe. It will help bring you into focus, to concentrate on the most important task you need to be focusing on right now.
  5. If you are spending time with someone you love, breathe. It will allow you to be present with that person, rather than thinking about work or other things you need to do.
  6. If you are exercising, breathe. It will help you enjoy the exercise, and therefore stick with it for longer.
  7. If you are moving too fast, breathe. It will remind you to slow down, and enjoy life more.

So breathe. DO IT NOW!  And enjoy each moment of this life. They’re too fleeting and few to waste.

Enlightened Exercise

Men cannot see their reflection in running water, but only in still water.

Chuang Tzu, philosopher (c. 4th century BCE)

It seems like those who are really into yoga sometimes think that a yoga practice must be done at the exclusion of all other physical exercise. While it’s true that there are only so many hours in the day into which a person can cram a yoga routine around work, family, social life, eating, etc., I’ve found that a balance of yoga and other physical exercise seems to help my mind and body feel its best. Although some of us may wish we lived in Himalayan caves, practicing yoga night and day, for the overwhelming majority of us, that dream is simply not reality.

While there are undeniable benefits that come from regularly finding time to step on the yoga mat, there are many other pathways for developing the mind-body connection. Almost any physical activity, whether it’s tennis or running or swimming, when approached with the same yogic mindset can be used as an opportunity for contemplation, meditation, and breath-awareness.

Zen Habits has a great article on The Zen of Running, describing how running can be used to develop present-mindedness and concentration. Lately, I’ve been totally into running. Even though I can’t say that I always get the same peaceful, relaxing feeling of yoga when I run, I often leave the iPod at home and use the repetitive nature of running to enter a meditation-like state, concentrating mainly on my breathing patterns. All I can say is it works for me. Everyone’s different, so it may or may not work for you. But, you never know until you try.

One of the suggestions from the Zen Habits blog is to keep a journal for recording thoughts and impressions that come while mindfully exercising. Since I like running, I’ve used a website called RunningAHEAD to track my running progress. In addition to tracking miles, times, and routes, RunningAHEAD also provides a convenient way to journal any ideas or thoughts that come to mind while out running. It’s nice to look back sometimes at the journal entries and remember those days I was in the zone. It’s also very motivating.

The principles of yoga can be applied to almost any activity. For me, both running and yoga get me into that “stillness” that Chuang Tzu says must be discovered before human beings are able to see their true reflection, before they find out who they really are. For ancient yogis, it took A LOT of experimentation before they started systematizing the limbs of yoga and creating a system of movement that almost magically led to inner stillness. In fact, that experimentation has never stopped and continues still today. As John Parker said in Once a Runner, “If the furnace is hot enough, it will burn anything.” That is what yoga does for me; that is what running does for me. If that’s not yogic, then I don’t know what is.

Bottom-line: Be like the ancient yogis and try something new; you might find enlightenment along the way.

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