The ancient sage Patanjali lists “pranayama” among the elements of the eight limbed path of Ashtanga Yoga in his 5,000 year old Yoga Sutras. Pranayama means control of the breath, which also often gets translated as “control of our life force,” or energy. There are many techniques you can use to control your breath, such as Sama Vritti Pranayama, or “same breath” pranayama, which we previously shared on the Scholé Yoga Journal here:

Inhale, Exhale

No one will argue that our breath is our source of life. Without it, our life ceases. But often, we have little control over our breath. When we’re stressed, we breathe quick, shallow breaths. Sometimes when we’re scared, we even hold our breath. The essence of yoga comes from learning to be mindful of our breathing. It sounds simple, but it takes quite a bit of practice to train our minds to stay focused on this not so simple thing!

Observing our breath is the first step towards conciously controlling it, and the first step towards reacting less when stress rises up in life. We still notice the stress, but it slowly starts not to trigger an automatic response from us. With breath control, we can create space that allows us to observe the situation and our reactions. As we slow our reactions, we can expend less energy in areas that don’t help us, such as reacting in anger or frustration. That energy can be put to use elsewhere to help us grow the things that matter more to us.

One of the most powerful elements of our breath is its ceaseless connection to the present. We spend so much time replaying mental movies of the past and speculating about the future. Even when we are not thinking about it, our breath is perpetually present. When we feel upset about something in the past, or worried about something that may not even happen in the days, months, or years ahead, observing our breath brings our focus and energy back to the present – which is the only place we can create real change.

Read about other elements of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga on the Scholé Yoga Journal: