Tame Your Breath – Tame Your Brain


I feel like these six words sum up our reading in this week’s section of Light on Life. Iyengar mentions he will elaborate on many of these ideas in future chapters, but as we look at Pranayama as “breath taming” and then recognize that the breath is closely tied to our consciousness, then we can come to the conclusion that a lot of what goes on in our brain (our mental fluctuations that cause us trouble) might be relieved by an attention to and control of our breath. In this section, his examples are stress and the 6 emotional disturbances : anger, lust, pride, obsession, hatred, and greed.

“By learning to appreciate breath, we learn to appreciate life itself.” BKS Iyengar

This simple concept is so difficult for us to grasp! The mind is powerful and habitual and attached to life, so how can the simple breath be the best tool to “tame the brain”? As stated in the previous reading sections, our individual breath is tied to the greater universal life energy, prana. It is this connection to prana, not just the physical act of breathing in, breathing out, or retaining in between that give us power to overcome obstacles

And the first step is to just pay attention to the breath during actual life experiences.  As an exercise, ask yourself some of the below questions to help you start down the road of observing the mind-breath relationship. Even in yoga class some of these may appear. You might be surprised at how powerful simple observation can be….

  1. When under a stressful situation do you hold your breath? 
  2. When you are angry does your breath sharpen and quicken or do you just get hot and uncomfortable?
  3. In trying to calm down from any stress what might you observe your breath trying to do for you? 

BKS Iyengar reminds us that living in a body and experiencing life is stressful and creates feelings. But, we are meant to participate and not shy away from life. When these experiences occur, as you have observed, they might cause changes in the breath and therefore cause mental fluctuations. Those fluctuations become disturbing and manifest if we attach to them. Our goal through yoga is to cultivate tools to experience life, feel without become attached or disturbed, and give space for the breath to work its magic around balancing the mental state.

Of course easier said than done. Ego and attachment are big obstacles! As Iyengar states, “We all are subject to impersonl forces – like traffic”, so attaching our self personally to everything going on and hanging on to emotional reactions alone creates undo stress and ultimately covers up the reality of pure experience. We have to remember that the reaction to impersonal forces are fully within our control and can be balanced by a control over our individual breath.

The following paragraph I think is a great reminder:

“To feel is a verb; it is something that happens. We all feel. Emotion is a noun, a thing. To feel is beautiful, belonging to both the animal and human condition. When we allow feelings to harden and coalesce into emotions, which we transport like overburdened slaves, we deny ourselves life’s freshness, its ever-present potential for renewal and transformation.” 

In summary, the next time you have a feeling, can you take a moment, close your eyes, tune into your breath, and see what the effects of that feeling are? The breath will give you the space to observe, then reflect, then assess the amount of attachment the body or the mind starts to have around that feeling. The ego might be pushed aside for a moment and pure experience mat be given space to arise.

“You must conquer your ego, or small self, so that you can let your soul, your Big Self, be victorious!

Jennie Williford CIYT

Jennie Williford (CIYT Level 3) is a transplant to LaCrosse via Montana, Illinois, and originally Texas. Throughout her life moves and 5 trips to India, Jennie has acquired a well-rounded and multi-faceted approach to Iyengar Yoga since her start in 1998. Jennie loves the experimental and explorative nature of yoga in accessing deeper knowledge of the Self on every level. The practice of yoga can be intense and introspective, however as practitioners we can be light-hearted and open-minded in our discipline. Jennie is intrigued by the philosophy of yoga and hopes to share this depth of subject while teaching the physical and mental benefits that come from the practice of posture.