Each organ in our body has a unique role that cannot be mimicked by another part and performs a function to aid the whole. The entirety of our system is dependent on each fragment embodying its highest potential. Yet, the health of all these components is inextricably linked to the breath that works like fuel to provide the energy required to fulfil its objective. Just like the strength of a tree is inextricably linked to its roots that remain concealed beneath the earth’s surface, the quality of our existence is associated with the quality and rate of our breath. Hence, we are able to fulfil various roles and engage in diverse activities on a daily basis as we are sustained by the ceaseless expansion and contraction of our chest wall.
In addition, our breath executes several other roles as well. When threatened by bouts of anxiety, restlessness or panic, we can lengthen each inhalation and exhalation. Hence, our breath can perform the dual function of a sword to slice out the crushing boulders of distress and also as a shield to protect us from submerging under the giant waves of fear. Furthermore, we can value it as a map or guide that exposes our current emotional state and navigates us in the right direction. The ancient tradition of yoga has demonstrated that mastering one’s breath is the key to increased vitality & health, unlocking creativity, harnessing one’s emotions and promoting a sense of interconnectedness. Still, our breath has the potential to remain both automatic and also conscious, and gross as well as subtle.
Since our breath perseveres in its quest for optimization, regardless of acknowledgement, we tend to disregard it and remain indifferent to the magnitude of its capacity. We mindlessly react to all real and perceived threats with quick, shallow breathing in an attempt to deal with the impending stress of our current times. This constant state of vigilance, the ‘fight or flight’ response, activates the body’s sympathetic nervous system and causes us to function under constant pressure. Moreover, since we remain inattentive of our breathing patterns, we forfeit the beauty of the present moment and lapse into the past or drift into the future, generating an endless cycle of escapism.
We justify our carelessness as a coping mechanism to sustain the accelerated pace of our times. So, in this overwhelming stimulating world, where the hustle for attention is intense, we overdose on stimulants to enhance the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. Yet, we remain oblivious to the freely available tool at our disposal — our breath. We have hugely underestimated the potency of our breath. In the battle between our inherent, boundless wisdom and external quick-fix solutions, we have unfortunately chosen the latter. We evolved into beings that forgot to breathe as we were fretting about reaching the illusory finish line of success! We transitioned from giving credence to our life force to believing that the power rests outside.
Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher and best-selling author, writes, “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” However, we have failed to promote this awareness into the fabric of our society. Isn’t it ironical that our entire education trajectory lasting more than a decade does not address the significance of our breath or teach us how to breathe mindfully and with complete conscious awareness? How are we expecting our corporates to survive the cutthroat competitive culture without honing their capacities for calming the mind and developing their intuition through the science of breath? Can we cope with the demands of the century by ignoring our immune system, nervous system and circulatory system, all of which are enhanced by our breath? Are we going to survive as victims to the pharmaceutical companies or are we going to self-initiate our own healing through the energy of the breath?
Without salt, even the delicacies of the land and sea are tasteless. Similarly, without our conscious breath, all our inner and external systems will collapse. So, while we can access yoga gurus, meditation masters, and mobile apps at the click of a finger, the real challenge is to use the tools and exercises to become mindful of our breath, to coordinate the brain and breath with every move and to wake up and remain conscious!
Dr. Rachna Shah
EdD in Education (Johns Hopkins University), Kundalini Yoga Teacher
An educator with a passion and fervent commitment to stimulate and awaken people to the magnanimous potential of their lives so they can access the inherent wisdom, courage and compassion to create happiness for self and others. She has worked extensively as an educator, coach and mentor with clinical patients, children with learning difficulties, teachers across schools and parents. Rachna has been practicing yoga since the past 15 years and adopted the science of Kundalini yoga 5 years ago.
Her favourite tagline is “The key to victory is the ability to persevere!” She blogs about learning, teaching and everything in between (https://medium.com/passion-project).