“Whoever relies on the breath has obtained a key to yoga and has taken a good path.”

– Swami Kripalu

Today is my youngest child’s 19th birthday and I am called to reflect on breath as life-giving. How awesome an experience it is to give birth and watch a child take her first breath in the world. There is an expectation in the delivery room amongst the doctors and family members, before the child enters the world and makes a sound. Collectively, the adult family members hold their breath, and once the child’s lungs fill and empty rhythmically for the first time there is a sigh of joy and relief.

We are dependent upon breath. It is critical to life. Yet, how often do we forget to breathe? In fear or expectation of anxiety, in pain or anticipation of discomfort, we hold our breath as if doing so will help the situation we find ourselves in. To rely on the breath, to breathe consciously is a gift – a gift of life.

I often say to students in class, “We can’t control much in this world, but we can control our breath and, therefore, our response to what life throws at us.” What if we were fully cognizant of our inhalations and exhalations before responding in an argument, or when taking on a new challenge – pausing, breathing, and then responding? That is what we teach our students daily. Pranayama, controlling life force or breath, is a tool we have at the ready, whether or not we need to slow it down or speed it up.

Try this:

  • Place the agenda items of your day before you (on paper or in your mind). Let each item or person be a separate thought. For Example: Walk the Dog, Breakfast, Drive to Work, etc.
  • With each thought take 1-3 breaths (more if there is something on your agenda that is causing you to feel stress), repeating the person’s name or the “to do” item like a mantra. For example, if you are having lunch with your friend, Grace, say to yourself, while aware of each breath, “Grace”, “Grace”, “Grace” etc.
  • Then move on to the next agenda item in your day, “groceries,”groceries,”groceries,” etc. Continue this until you reach. “Go to bed”
  • Now inhale and exhale with the word, “today” on your mind – the day as a whole

Notice the effect on your body, mind and spirit having given this kind of attention to the individual items of your day and to the day as a whole. This process will only take five minutes and there are many ways to modify it to suit your needs given the time you have available.

Perhaps this exercise becomes a part of the time you spend driving to work. It will remind you to breathe and approach the day breathing consciously– a tool for managing the stuff of life. When a baby is born, it immediately knows that it has to breathe to survive – it’s instinctual. Trust your instincts, do your yoga and breathe.