We talk about breath a lot in yoga. Why? Because it’s so important, not just in yoga, but on the most base physiological level. If you think about it, you could last for days without food or water, but try holding your breath for even 2 minutes, and you probably won’t make it too far. There are a myriad of ways that we use breath in yoga. In vinyasa practices, we link breath with movement. In pranayama, we adopt different breath patterns to alter our prana (energy.) I like this infographic for its simplicity and how it illustrates some of the ways yoga is beneficial for this necessary physiological function.
As an asthma sufferer, breath has been vitally important to me. Not being able to breath freely is a deeply frightening thing. And I can also attest to a major decrease in my asthma symptoms as a result of my yoga practice (which includes lots of pranayama.) Also, I use pranayama to help lessen anxiety. When you think about the times you are anxious, you probably notice that your breathing becomes shallow and perhaps you feel that your breath is mostly in you chest. By lengthening your breath, and sending your breath all the way down to your belly, you help kick your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) into gear, which in turn helps to decrease your anxiety. That common phrase that we hear when people are trying to calm us down, “Take a deep breath,” is exactly what we need to do to bring ourselves to a more stable place.