Breathe in That Good Ass Prana Baby!
Pranayama translates as life-force expansion, and yogis believe, with a credible body of evidence, that it not only rejuvenates the body but extends life. ‘Prana’ is life force and energy, often achieved through breathing practices. ‘Ayama’ is a stretching, a regulation, a control, thus pranayama is an expansion of our life force and a stretching of our capacity through breath control. Not a stretch to see why it is such an integral and important part of a yoga practice. Pranayama in an asana routine can be undertaken at the commencement and conclusion of a yoga practice as well as within the postures, or used as a stand-alone breathing practice at any time.
The first four stages of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga concentrate on understanding our personalities, gaining skill in controlling the body, and developing an awareness of ourselves. The body, while not separate to the mind, is a gross tool of the sense organs and a significant distraction to the journey towards a higher state of consciousness if not under strict control. Patanjali noted that the breath is a vehicle to achieving an awareness of our consciousness.
We need to learn to slowly and systematically measure and manipulate its distribution. Understanding the vital role breath plays in stilling the mind and the body, it is also important to remember that breath is not under our control. In this light, we can look at our relationship with it in terms of pranayama as one of collaboration and negotiation—also key skills to master for our good hustle practice. Breath will come in and out. The amount of actual attention you have paid to breathing since your birth is miniscule.
Breath doesn’t need you as the doer, and this in itself is invaluable wisdom to remember. All of the time your mind has spent applying itself to planning control of and attachment to the things that you believe are the most essential to your survival (reputation, good Facebook selfies, consuming rainbow layer cakes) is time you haven’t spent on your breath. All the drama, the days when life seemed like it was literally going to end because of some heartbreak, criticism, reputational blow, disappointment or disaster, you just kept on breathing, and living.
Breath as the most critical element to your life is seemingly a free agent, blissfully decoupled from your mind and its distractions, able to single-pointedly get on with delivering essential services day and night. There is much we can learn from our breath, and perhaps the best lesson is humility. Our mind needs to be reminded that they can pretend to be the boss all they like, but everything we actually need is within, patiently performing and waiting to be noticed. If you are a yoga teacher or student, you will have heard this phrase many times: come back to the breath. The breath is the constant that we orient our practice around, it is the central golden cord of releasing distraction and returning to stillness and awareness.
Breath similarly anchors meditation practices. We follow its path in and out of our nostrils with wonder each time we return, as if seeing the miracle of our breathing for the first time. The gratitude and eager embrace of breath as something to anchor onto to settle our minds is soon lost again as the rainclouds of thought return, and the process of loss and gaining of consciousness continues.
When we talk about training our breath in yoga, we are really training our bodies to recognise that breath is there and available to us. We can slow it down, deepen it, extract healing powers from it, and regulate the reaction of our bodies and minds. The breath within those actions doesn’t fundamentally change. We change around it. Pranayama teaches us the fundamental requirement as entrepreneurs to trust and surrender in that which we don’t control.
These layer together when we make breath a conscious and central part of our practice in a loop of remembrance and surrender. It is the physical and lived experience of that wisdom. What we need to grasp is that despite what happens around it, breath just keeps going. It’s not attached to anything. This is how we need to model ourselves as we move down the path of ideation into the set-up of our new businesses. We need to keep moving in a regular rhythm, paying attention without attachment, and making decisions based on simply moving the concept forward, breath by breath.
If pranayama is the extension of our vital life-force energy through breathing practice, and we are summoning this life force to help us with the monumental task required to shift our mindsets, it stands to reason that we are going to need to harness and cultivate quantities of energy. We need to generate prana and we need to consciously work with our asana and pranayama practice to do so. As we increase strength, fortitude and resilience in the body, so too the breath as the vehicle of our consciousness and awareness needs to be cultivated.
If you aren’t a current practitioner of pranayama, start today. Start right now. Just sit, book or Kindle in hand or headphones on, and focus on the breath. Connect to the idea that nothing happens without it, and it happens with nothing originating from your conscious thinking mind. Simply deepening the quality of your inhalations is going to be a boon for your health.
You can start with a couple of minutes a day—include it in your yoga asana practice, or on waking and retiring, but the key part is to make it a conscious practice and link that neural pathway to unlocking your own inner intelligence. Pranayama is not just breathing—be mindful of the subtle difference. It is the harnessing and stoking of energy, building the furnace to fuel your inner workings to new heights. What else might be sitting silently inside you, working on autopilot, waiting for a chance to be uncovered as you quieten the mind?