Nadira Mohsin
KPJAYI Authorized Ashtanga Yoga Teacher
August 7, 2020
The Air I Breathe

The breath. It’s such a wide topic. I don’t think I could ever do it justice, but I’m going to try.

As a yoga teacher, I’m always telling my students that breathing in yoga is the most important thing. In fact, is the only thing. The purpose of yoga is to find a calm and steady breath in whatever pose you find yourself in. But…why? Because breathwork, is the gateway to healing. Breathing is critical to life. If you stop breathing, you DIE. It’s that simple.

Just like constant flow of blood, the body needs a constant flow of oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. Because the body is so resilient and wired for life, That basic function of gas exchange, can be achieved by any type of breathing. Your breath could be shallow or deep, ragged or smooth, mindful or UNmindful and it’ll still keep you alive.

But will it keep you WELL?

Breathing is very much connected to your state of mind. So while regular old automatic breathing is keeps you physically alive, breathing with awareness keeps you in a stable state of mind. Research has shown that taking conscious control of your breath immediately triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. What’s that?  It’s simply that part of your nervous system that slows things down and brings things back to baseline levels. So when you engage in mindful breathing, you are encouraging your body back from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’. Blood-sugar levels, stress hormones, digestion, immunity, are all being brought back to normal levels.

This is important because in the modern world, we are constantly being bombarded with all forms of stress. Stress from work, kids, relationships, money. Even things that we don’t expect, like pollution or an sedentary lifestyle or even a resistant mindset can be a source stress. COVID-19 and all the trouble that it has caused the entire world is a MAJOR source of stress! Unfortunately, our human bodies, still have not evolved from caveman days and only know how to deal with stress in one way. The human body perceives stress as a physical threat or danger. So it will prepare to fight or flee.

In short bursts, this is OK. This is an effective means of self-preservation. But the stresses that we encounter in the modern world are not necessarily life threatening. They are however, long drawn out. The anxiety of losing your job or having a conflict with your significant other can last a lot longer than what our bodies can physically handle.

So what to do?  BREATHE!

The fastest way to counter the these negative effects and help your body come back to a healthy stable state, you need to breathe. Breathe consciously. Breathe mindfully. And understand why you’re doing it. Remember that controlling your breath triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. Which works to bring all systems back down from red alert. It basically is a way to trick your body and mind into believing that you are safe and protected from danger.

Of course, the real issues causing your stress to begin with are still all there. But at least doing this, will help to put you in a stable state of mind to be able to deal with offending issues.

So to end off, the TLDR of it all is, when in times of stress, remember the breath!

About the author

Nadira Mohsin is a Singapore based KPJAYI authorised ashtanga yoga instructor. Having practiced yoga for well over a decade under the tutelage of Sharath Jois at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, she today leads a team of teachers at Singapore's Art of Yoga.