The outbreath…releases what is superfluous and removes what would otherwise become blocks to the free flow of prana within. ~ BKS Iyengar
I love this quote. It uses the great but underused word ‘superfluous’. Iyengar could have said ‘unnecessary’ or ‘not needed’ instead, but frankly, those words are boring. What I think is really interesting is how superfluous rolls out of the mouth. It’s a word we’re not use to reading and it makes us slow down and pay attention, maybe trying it on a few times to get the taste of it. Try saying the quote above out loud using the word ‘unnecessary’ instead of ‘superfluous’. How did it sound? Did you feel your jaw move up and down with the word, almost like a robot? Did your mouth rush over the words and did you say the sentence in one quick breath?
Now try saying it again as originally written. How did it sound this time? How many different ways did your jaw move with the word? Did you notice how the brain slowed down? Did you notice any changes in the way you were breathing? Did you take more than one breath to read the sentence?
It’s curious that something as simple as an uncommon word can make us slow down and think about our breath. Think back over your day and how many times you were paying attention to your breathing. For the most part, breathing is an involuntary action – it just happens – which is a very good thing and you may not recall anything specific about your breath at all today. If the day was busy and stressful, you might have been very aware of the breath coming into the body, either in short intakes when things were really crazy or deeper inhales when you were trying to take a moment to slow down and focus. Did you notice your exhales?
Most often we don’t pay attention to letting the air out of our lungs. Obviously we do exhale, but was it same length as the inhale? Breath gives us life: we inhale and oxygen fills the body, giving it energy. We exhale and release stale air and toxins. But if you aren’t releasing the same amount as you are taking in, there is a lot of stale, flat air circulating through your body. This makes the mind cloudy and the body feel sluggish. Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee to give your system a jolt, try this breathing exercise.
Sitting with the spine comfortably straight and the shoulders relaxed, breath in and out three times. Without judging, notice how the breath feels. Is it fast and ragged, high up in the chest? Is it deep in the belly? Is it somewhere in between? On the fourth inhale, breathe in to the slow count of three, and breathe out to the same count. Repeat this five or six times, making sure to keep the back tall and shoulders down. You many find that you need to count to five or six, or you may find that you get a little dizzy and need to use a smaller count; use whatever number works for you. The important thing is to make the inhales and the exhales the same length. Feel the breath fill your torso when you inhale and feel it empty completely when you exhale. Don’t force the breath, just let it settle into a natural rhythm. Release any tension that may be creeping into your jaw. Continue the counted breath for as long as you like. When you finish, allow the breath to return to a natural pace and spend a few moments observing how you feel.
When we focus the mind on the breath by counting, it helps to calm our entire system and brings balance. It also gives the mind a job to do and the whirling thoughts slow down and begin to gently drift in and out. The prana or energy moves freely within. And everything that is superfluous is released.