The first action each of us took in this life was an inhalation. The last will be an exhalation. Every breath in-between forms the thread, or sutra, of our life. Though we breathe essentially all of the time, we are not often motivated to examine or be aware of the breath.
The breath is the interface between our physiology and psychology. It both affects and is affected by that which we experience in our minds and do with our bodies. Breath is different from prana (life force), but is a primary vehicle for affecting how prana is organized and utilized in the mind-body complex.
To begin to use both the breath and prana consciously, it is helpful to learn what baseline qualities we bring to breathing. In this inquiry, we begin to explore where the breath moves easily and where it may be obstructed. Sensing this allows us to receive the gifts of the breath’s ease and to sort out the places where it is challenged. Challenges which are more structural in nature may best be addressed in an asana practice. More habitual patterns, which may be helped by an asana practice, may be more effectively addressed through a mindful breathing practice. When the obstacles to the breath have been reasonably addressed, one may then begin to safely utilize the breath to volitionally direct prana itself. This is called Pranayama.
Pranayama essentially describes the practice of using control and discernment to liberate prana. Some beginning practices of pranayama teach volitional control and maximize the capacity of the breath. As one becomes more comfortable with these practices, one can begin to employ pranayama to direct prana through specific nadis (lines of energy) and chakras (life force centers) to begin more directly affecting consciousness itself in the direction of a more balanced being and ultimately enlightenment.
The Sutra of Life
by Kim Schwartz