By Danielle Johnson, RDN, CDN
In yoga philosophy “prana” is referred to as the life force energy that is linked to our breath. It is the subtle underlying energy that animates us, not the actual air/oxygen we breathe in. The mind and the prana have very close connections, and in order to bring peace to the mind we must watch and regulate our breath.
When agitated, we breathe heavily (short and shallow). When deeply concentrated/relaxed, we breathe calmly (long and deep), sometimes hardly noticing it. Just as our mind regulates our breath, our breath can regulate the mind automatically. When you notice you are feeling agitated or anxious, take a deep breath to slow down the mind. Whatever is agitating the mind can be regulated by the breath when you fully concentrate on it.
This can also be applied for exercise. For example, if your heart is racing after performing a set of squats you can increase breath length by taking a long and slow deep breath, to bring your heart rate back down before performing the next set. Conversely, decreasing the length of your breath by taking short and shallow breaths can increase your energy. For example, if you are feeling low energy and want to increase your performance during a workout, decrease breath length to increase your heart rate to create more energy in the body.
Practicing this type of breath work helps increase the mind-body connection. The two systems are not separate, although mental stress can interfere with our mind-body connection and increase our risk of disease. We can use breath work during physical activity to tap into the physical stress of our bodies. Yoga is a traditional way to tap into the mind-body connection physically, but it can be used in any form of physical activity – walking, running, weightlifting, Zumba, or anything! The best thing you can do is start paying attention by drawing awareness and observing your breath, and then guide it according to your physical activity goals.
By Danielle Johnson, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian. A graduate of Long Island University CW Post, Danielle works in Mather Hospital’s Department of Bariatrics/ Bariatric Center of Excellence, where she specializes in surgical weight loss and medical weight management. She is completing her Master of Science Degree in Integrative Nutrition at Stony Brook University.
Resources/further reading: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali