Samurai Do It, Pro Tennis Players Do it, and World-Class Lovers Do It.

Breathe. Of course. Breath is life. We talk about it all the time in yoga. Without it we’re dead. Our breathing is regulated both automatically as well as the deliberately. In other words, unlike our heartbeat, we can manipulate our breath if we want to. Unfortunately, being unconscious about our breath, or things that help us breathe such as good posture, often contributes to habitual, shallow breath that only allows us to receive the bare essentials for living. In this state, our muscles, organs, systems, and brain are literally running on power-save mode, reducing us practically to the walking dead.

Pause for 5 seconds right now and take a long exhale, then a faaaaat inhale, followed by a long breath back out your nostrils. Then do it again. Simple. Easy to forget. Notice how good that feels! Do that once in a while.

Ok. Now that power-save mode is off, let’s talk about how we can use the secret power of this vital yet ever-present element of breath to do more than just survive—to thrive. For millennia breath control has been one of the biggest life hacks—a way to get more by doing less. Check it out . . .

Yoga is the combo of body mind and spirit, right? Well, I think of breath as the ambassador to each of those realms.

Biologically, our breath fuels every cell in our bodies. It’s the key element of the production of ATP for you biology nerds out there. Using our breath consciously is like enabling a fuel injector for our muscles. Most martial arts make a regular practice using the breath for power and control during a fight. Anyone who begins to breathe uncontrollably will soon hyperventilate or starve their muscles and brain of oxygen and will soon succumb to their opponent.

In fact, the kiai (read: Hee-YAH!) is the Japanese term for the short little shout during a strike in many forms of martial arts. It’s a way of harnessing the power of an exhale for maximum power. Also, ever watch a pro tennis match? Those athletes also belt out a grunt, something akin to the kiai, that helps them to harness the power of their breath to rocket the tennis ball at their opponents, often at speeds of over 200 miles an hour! Even if you’re a lover and not fighter, by consciously using your breath, you unlock a secret power to get more doing less, whether that’s pounding up a trail, busting out a yoga posture, or even climbing a flight of stairs.

Mentally, your brain functions faster and more clearly when we have a good, solid, and steady source of oxygen. Too much or too little makes our mind frantic or dull. Interesting how breath seems to be a primary component of almost every discipline of meditation. Those who find themselves in a life-or-death situation often survive by their ability to keep their mental cool, often by keeping their breathing at a slow, steady pace. This allows your brain to function optimally without jamming it with or starving it from oxygen. One of my favorite meditation exercises is to simply count my breaths backward from the number 30 to zero, starting over every time I lose count. This will also work wonders to reduce anxiety.

So we’ve heard about the power of breath toward body and mind, what about spirit? The Latin word for breath is Spiritus. Prana is the Sanskrit term meaning the life-force energy, or spirit, in everything. Prana is what makes galaxies spin and is also what makes you tick. Breath is the simplest, easiest, and the most powerful way of affecting your own prana. By the skillful use of your breath you can master a control of your energy which in turn will produce greater power, vitality, and even a connection with others.

Speaking of energy and connection with others, here’s where this bit about breath gets gooooooood (cue the Barry White). Since breath controls our energy, and sex (that’s right!) is such an amazingly energetic exchange, we can use our breath to be world-class lovers. Yep. In fact, some people are so sensitive to energy that they feel most satisfied sexually by the ability to feel the energy of their partner. I don’t intend to go into the nitty-gritty details about love making here, you can look up Tantric love making for the finer details on this, but one thing you can practice immediately, which I guarantee will improve your love life, is a G-rated practice involving your breath.

Try this: (turn down the Barry White a tich)

Sit down on the floor or on the couch in front of your partner. Set a timer for 5 minutes and agree to stare deeply into each others eyes THE WHOLE TIME and breathe together. Keep your eyes locked! Breathe when your partner breathes. Visualize breathing into your heart and expanding your heart outward. Practice feeling the heart of your partner as you breathe in and out. Sexy! You might be amazed at the level of connection you will feel toward your partner. Do this a few times a week.

Now write this on your calendar: On Valentines weekend, Feb 13 or 14, Seneca and I are going to offer a couples retreat at Snowbird and explore several simple ways of connecting with your partner that involve positive communication, fun couple’s yoga poses, and some great breath and meditation practices to begin to share energy with your partner.

Of course, in yoga we focus on our breath as well. There are several breathing exercises called Pranayama (working with prana) which, done independently from poses, will harness the power of our breath to do anything from reduce our anxiety, to raising our energy, or like other athletes, give us the power and calm we need when performing anything challenging. Combine deliberate breathing techniques with yoga postures and you become an unstoppable machine of power, grace, and energy. Yoga teaches us that when we meet something challenging, to greet it with a long breath in and out. The effect of combining breath and movement is one of the not-so-secret secret weapons of yoga. It’s what differentiates yoga from merely exercise into a transformational body/mind/spirit experience.

Lastly, there is something really magical that happens sometimes in yoga class with a room full of people who are all breathing at the same time. As the teacher, I feel privy to something incredible: the collective body, mind, and spirit. Truly, it’s the magic of breathing and is similar, I imagine, only to the conducting of a symphony orchestra. Come and lend YOUR breath!

Like I said, the Latin word for breath is Spritus. To conspire, therefore, means literally to breathe together. Let’s conspire together this week at yoga.