Shakespeare could have been talking about Breathwork in Romeo and Juliet when he said: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
The point is, it matters not what something is called. What matters is what it is. Breathwork is a basically a modern name for Pranayama, the Hindu Science of Breath. Yogi Ramacharaka turned me on to the Science of Breath as a young teenager. (And by the way, on the very same day, I discovered Ernest Shurtleff Holmes and Science of Mind.)
That day in the attic of the American Red Cross building in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in a big way is why I have spent the better part of my life traveling, studying and teaching. My work has been to turn as many people on to Breathwork or Pranayama as possible. (What’s in a name?)
Breathing is more important than eating and sleeping or going to the bathroom. And breathwork is much more important than brushing your teeth, shining your shoes, combing your hair, or if you are a yogi- shaving your head.
What I am celebrating today is how the current medical scientific understanding of what happens when we do breathwork aligns perfectly with what the ancients said happens when we practice Pranayama.
“Prana” means “life force energy.” “Ayama” means “control or expand”
The ancient yogis controlled and regulated their breath in order to control and regulate their mind and their emotions. And just as the ancient yogis did, we can learn to use the body and the breath to heal the mind, and to use the mind and the breath to heal the body.
The essence of pranayama is learning to breathe energy as well as air, to gather it, circulate it, and direct it. I don’t always like it when teachers try to impress us with the use of esoteric language. Many of them memorize all the right Sanskrit terms, yet too many don’t really get what it is that they are talking about!
I am sure you have felt it. When someone just passes on what they heard someone say or what they read in a book. Compare that to someone who speaks from embodied knowledge and genuine experience. Genuine energy can be felt. And breath is energy.
I can tell you from experience that in pranayama, consciousness and energy come together as one. And speaking of pranayama, here’s something I read in a book:
Puraka means inhale. Rechaka means exhale. Kumbhaka means hold/pause.
By the way, holding the breath with full lungs is called Antara Kumbhaka, and holding the breath with empty lungs is called Bahya Kumbhaka. We could also talk about spinning energy centers or wheels called “chakras,” and how they coincide with various organs and glands and nerves.
And we could talk about energy channels like Ida and Pingala, Sushuma and the experience of Samhadi. And how they align with our modern understanding of the sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways in the autonomic nervous system, and the experience of the flow state or being in the zone. But let’s save that for another time.
Today, let’s just focus on the basics. To play with the inhale the exhale and the pause is to practice Pranayama: the dance of awakening and unblocking, balancing and regulating your life force energy—and therefore your mind, body and emotions.
Here is a basic 15-minute Pranayama Protocol that you can use to get a handle on your energy first thing in the morning and get your day off to a great start. You can also practice it mid-day to avoid the afternoon crash. And it’s also a great way to end your workday and shift to family time.
The main thing is that it will get you on to the path of Breath Mastery which ultimately leads to self-mastery or self-liberation. I created this protocol just now for this report. And I invite you to practice it right now for yourself.
Start with Triangle Breathing: Inhale for the count of 3. Exhale for the count of 3. Hold/pause for the count of 3. Inhale 3, exhale 3, hold/pause 3. Do this for 3 minutes.
Then practice Square Breathing: Inhale for the count of 4. Hold/pause for the count of 4. Exhale for the count of 4. Hold/pause for the count of 4. Inhale 4. Hold 4. Exhale 4. Hold 4. Do that for 4 minutes.
Then do Circular Breathing: Inhale for a count of 2, and exhale for a count of 2. Inhale 2, exhale 2. No holding/no pausing. Do this for 2 minutes.
Then let the breath breathe you. Stop controlling/regulating the breath. Let the breath come and go by itself. When it wants and how it wants. Just relax and feel. Just be aware. Meditate for 5 minutes.
Finally, stretch and move, twist and turn, shake and wiggle. Do this for 1 minute. And then write to me and tell me what happened, and how you feel!
Welcome to Breathwork or Pranayama or Conscious Breathing or Spiritual Breathing. What’s in a name anyway…
I wish you much luck in your practice, and many blessings on your path.