The Pause between the Breaths
Perhaps you’ve heard in yoga class, “Pause between your breaths.” But why should you stop? Take a moment now to inhale, pause, exhale, and pause again before taking your next breath. Observe what happens in your body. The inhale is the active state of the breath. The pause allows the fluctuations of the mind to still, gain clarity, and become balanced. The exhale is the state of decreased activity of the breath. As you pause again, the breath calms and may even awaken the mind. During the pause, you may suddenly remember something that in your unfocused busy world escaped your memory. With the cessation of the breath, the overactive world becomes still and the door opens to thoughts that lie beneath the surface.
It can be a magical feeling, but there is physiology behind what happens. With conscious breathing, the nervous system returns to homeostasis, a stable equilibrium. It takes the mind to a place of integration, not separation. This is the time the Self is open to moments of clarity to make decisions that are right, intelligent, and see the world as it is.
As you continue your yoga practice, you may hear, “Inhale and raise your arms. Place your hands together, and pause your breath. Exhale and lower your arms, and pause your breath.” When you do this, you are bringing oxygen into more cells, increasing circulation, and opening channels in the body. You are focused on your breath and this quiets the vritis or the chatter in the mind. Continuing to breathe and move through poses, increases focus and quiets the mind. After an hour of conscious breathing and moving, the “doorway into the state of meditation opens,” as Jaffar Alexander states.
Yoga is a lived experience. Yoga, meaning connection or unity, occurs when sitting, walking, riding a bike, or another activity, when you concentrate in the present moment. Be aware of your breath, and make your breath your friend. Be mindful when you know it is time to take a break, and inhale an extra “sip” of oxygen as you breathe. Become familiar with interoception, the eighth sense, that allows you to feel important sensations, such as breathing rates, hunger, thirst, and muscle tension. This knowledge guides you to know if you need to calm down or energize. If you want to calm down, take a longer exhale to bring in a quiet state of being. If you are tired, take a longer inhale to bring energy into your body. This awareness of breath guides you to understand what your body needs. It helps find balance between overactivity and underactivity, and brings equanimity into life.
That’s why at the end of a yoga practice, there are smiles that reflect the magic of yoga, which has a physiological basis. East meets West with greater understanding of this ancient practice.
by Barbara Newman, RYT 200, (RYT 300 summer 2020)
Inspired by Jafar Alexander, E-RYT 500, Yoga Alliance Webinar 4/29/2020