I focused one of my recent yoga classes on breathing. Prana, our life energy, manifests and we observe it as breath. Our breath matches our mind. When we are calm, and engrossed in a subject we might find that we breathe slowly. When we are excited, angry, or frightened, our breath begins to race.
In yoga, I teach students how to observe their breath by counting inhales and exhales. Asking them to come back to their breath when holding poses, to create focus and slow and calm the mind. But, what I find most interesting about teaching the importance of breathing, is that it’s probably not the first time these adults are being taught how to breathe. Rather, it’s a likely a reteaching of a something they learned as children.
Teaching Children to Breathe
We teach children to breathe. I spent 6 months teaching children how to breathe during my social work internship. I planned and ran anger management sessions at a boy’s group home. We teach them how to breathe in order to control their emotions. It’s a tool for calming down when angry. Specifically, on often tell children to count to 10. In counting to ten they are taking 10 breaths.We teach children to breathe to calm down when crying. We tell children to take a deep breath so that they can begin to find the words to explain what has made them upset.
More recently, when asking my nephew about school, he said “I practiced breathing today.” I didn’t get too many details other than, “we sat there and breathed.” Teachers use breathing to help with anxiety in the classroom. I used it as a teacher combined with positive affirmations. Inhale, “I am ready to take this test.” Exhale, “I practiced these problems each day.” Inhale, “I am going to be successful.” Exhale, “I’m going to be successful.”
Breathe to Connect
When I ask students in a yoga class to focus on their breathing, I am not teaching them how to breathe. Rather, I am helping them recall a lost skill that they once had. I’m helping them remember the importance of their breath. How they can use it to connect their mind with their body. To connect to the present moment. To find calmness and slow down their thoughts in a world that always wants them to be on the go.
I’m reminding them that breath is life. And if they can breathe, they can do yoga.