By Stephanie Stillman
It’s simple: we inhale and we exhale. When I flow freely through emotions and life, my breath flows freely through each inhale and exhale. When I attach to fear and uncomfortable emotions, my diaphragm tenses and my breath is restricted. The breath is our prana, our life force. It’s a tool we have to see what’s really happening inside on a mental and emotional level. Knowing the power of the breath now, it’s no wonder to me why I felt so disconnected in my life — I had never felt connection with my breath.
During my first experience with pranayama, I was instructed to complete six rounds of nadi shodhana, alternate nostril breathing. Easy enough, I thought. Counting each inhale and exhale consumed my whole attention, so much that I had to keep track of each round on my fingers. At the time I figured that everyone was using their fingers to count because it would be impossible to keep track of so many things at once. This went on for a month or so, and then things began to shift. I began counting the rounds in my mind and became less and less dependent on my fingers. I had thought it was an impossible task to keep track of multiple things at once, but really it was just my mind so filled up with anxiety, fear and cluttered thinking that there wasn’t any space to concentrate. The pranayama practice began to calm the chatter in my mind and brought me the ability to focus, simply by connecting me with my breath.
The funny thing is, before starting a pranayama practice I didn’t even know how much clutter was in my mind. I didn’t know that depression didn't have to be my norm, that anger didn’t have to consume me, that fear didn’t have to dictate my decisions. I didn’t know life could be any other way. Now four years later, I continue with a devoted pranayama practice. I count in my mind, my thinking is clearer, and I flow more freely through all my emotions. I am more present and conscious in my daily living and I have the space in my mind to experience what life offers. Pranayama not only expanded my breath, it expanded my ability to live my life.