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Breath-Heart Connection

I recently had an ah-ha! moment! It isn’t new information, and yet in the moment the power of this TRUTH woke me from my slumber and warmed me to my core.

Breath is the key to love!

Breathing is essential to life and a key component of the Yoga practice, called pranayam. I hadn’t previously made the connection between breathing and loving. What I know about loving is that it is challenging, and sometimes downright hard.

Even Patanjali, the yoga sage, put “love” before breath, and even asana BEFORE breath. Ahimsa, or the value to not harm is Patanjali’s FIRST yama (ethical principle of the first limb of the Ashtanga tree/8-limb path). Asana is the third limb and pranayama takes the 4th place.

No, Patanjali’s teaching is not meant to be a strict linear path, and some might even say its not truly hierarchical in nature. It’s meant as a teaching tool to organize the entirety of Yoga for study. As such, Patanjali’s order seems to work well for engaging in the practice of yoga, but its NOT the order of things for life! Breath has to come first.

Just Breathe…

Anatomically, breath brings in the oxygen we need for healthy living, for life itself. The contracting Diaphragm creates a pressure vacuum in the chest drawing air in from outside the body. This is the INHALE.

The larger the breath the bigger the lungs expand and the deeper the oxygen travels into the lobes of the lungs.  At the end of the bronchioles, deep in the lungs, oxygen is absorbed through the alveoli (air sacs). After absorbing oxygen, the blood leaves the lungs and is carried to the heart. The heart pumps the oxygenated blood through the body to provide oxygen (BREATH!) to the cells of your tissues and organs.

Without the strength of the pumping heart the oxygenated blood would never make it to the far ends of our body. In turn, our arms would not have the energy to hug, our legs to labor, and our minds to choose.

Inhale & Exhale…

Likewise, the complementary energy is the EXHALE. The Diaphragm relaxes and the Transverse Abdominus and Intercostal muscles contract around the torso to assist in the evacuation of used air. Exhaling is not only important for making room in the lungs for a new breath, it also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

The PNS governs the relaxation response that tempers the stress response and counters the effects of adrenaline and cortisol with acetylcholine. Relaxation slows down the heart and enables us to rest, digest nutrients, express ourselves, heal, recover from trauma and injuries and engage in sexual activity, which will again ramp up the heart 😊. Simply put, we need to Breathe, Move, & Rest.

The heart serves not only as a psychological center for love, it also serves as the organ of strength and perseverance in loving. The brain serves as the center for logic and reason. With the brain we can choose to love. Yoga teaches a third component of the “mind stuff”, in addition to the heart and the brain. Yogis triangulate access to wisdom of the brain and heart with intuition of the belly.

What’s most powerful about this epiphany is NOT the anatomical correlation. It’s the fact that I already know HOW TO BREATHE (and practice helps me get better!) If breath is a key ingredient to love, then with practice, I am well on my way to loving better too!