The process of breathing is the most accurate metaphor we have for the way that we personally approach life, how we live our lives, and how we react to the inevitable changes that life brings us. We are not only breathing this life, “it” is also breathing us. – Donna Farhi

As I age, my yoga practice continues to adapt to the ongoing changes and conditions that life serves up. In my 20’s and 30’s the focus was more dynamic and physical elements of the practice, in my early 40’s a call for kinder, more restorative forms to manage energy levels and the juggling of parenting and now as I step into my late 40’s and peri-menopausal body I am finding the breathing practices to be the most potent and useful.

When I was first taught Pranayama or breath control as it is translated, there was a force and discipline applied that I found almost anxiety provoking. Over many years of connecting with my breath during movement and stillness I have come to understand a much more compassionate and gentle approach. When teaching my weekly breath classes I offer both Breath Awareness and Breath Regulation. You might ask what’s the difference?

Let’s look at Breath Awareness first. Breath Awareness is simply noticing the breath as it is. It brings us inwards and allows us to connect with what is arising not only in the breath itself but that noticing our breathing also reveals vital information about our physical experience as well as any emotions that might be arising or any ruminating of thoughts in the mind. Essentially breath awareness reveals useful information and allows us to see our unconscious habits. This simple being with the breath as it is can be calming and connecting and already acts on the Autonomic Nervous System inviting a coherence to the heart beat and digestive system. Breath Awareness brings mindful attention and a meditative insight to our experience.

Breath regulation allows us to manipulate various aspects of the breath. This might include controlling the pace of the breath, the length of the inhalation or exhalation, extending pauses or changing the pattern of breathing. In breath regulation we might use visualisations and posture changes to particular areas in the body to shift the qualities of breathing too. In the Yoga Sutras it is suggested that we approach pranayama through relaxing effort, especially focussing on the exhalation and noticing the natural stilling of the breath that occurs with breath regulation. Prana is the sanskrit word that describes the life force that animates all existence. When we bring our focus to the breath it becomes an honouring of all life, an interconnectedness if you like and brings us into the present moment.

I introduced these concepts in a recent online class weaving in both breath awareness and breathing practices. Put half an hour decide and have a go. This class introduced a gentle alternate nostril practice. Enjoy!