In yoga asana practice we are often reminded by our steadfast instructors to draw our minds to our breaths. This is often much easier said than done. When you are in a difficult posture or flowing through an unfamiliar sequence of postures it can be very easy to lose your breath all together and have your mind bound to your posture. It is also easy to lose the breath in postures your find easy, offering your mind to past and future events instead. Even though those reminders from your instructor may fall on deaf ears often, there is a reason that they tirelessly remind their students to focus on their breaths.
Your Breath, On The Mat
The biggest reason that focusing on your breath on the mat can benefit you is through its ability to help you determine if a posture or sequence is too much for your body in this present moment, thus helping you to avoid injury. The reason this is so is because your breath and your body never lie. Your mind is able to tell you that you can push through, go deeper, hold your posture for longer, but your breath will always tell you if this is true or not.
In asana practice you should have the ability to maintain a long even and deep inhale, with a smooth, steady and calm exhale. Yoga is not generally meant to be a heart pumping rapid breathing workout. So if you are finding that you are struggling to maintain your steady, even breathing this is most likely a clear sign from your body that the posture or sequence is too much and that it is best for you to back off a little. Your body is always communicating with you, and tuning into your breath is an awesome way to start practicing perceiving this communication and responding to it.
Body Talk Off The Mat
Off the mat this conscious ability to "read" your body through reading your breath is just as helpful, if not more helpful, than it is on the mat. You see your breathing and your stress response are intimately connected. You are most likely aware that when you are in a state of stress your breathing rate becomes more rapid, you breath more into your lungs and less into your belly and the rhythm of your breath most likely becomes scattered. This is your body's way of telling you that it has perceived the danger around you and is preparing to help you fight or flee.
You can use your breath in your everyday life to let you know if a situation you are in is right for you or not. If you find that you are not able to take slow, long, rhythmic breaths in your day for some reason, this may be a signal from your body that there is something out of alignment within your current situation. Again, remember that your body never lies. Your mind may be telling you that taking this new job is what you want, or that this new person in your life is trustworthy, but if you were to tune into your breath, you may find that it is telling you a different story.
Learning to tune into your breath, to hear what it is saying to you about your situation on or off the mat is an amazing first step in learning to communicate with your body on a deeper level. Your body is your friend and it wants you to have a fulfilled life. Start to tune into its rhythms, signs and signals and see how it increases your intuition, self awareness and overall joy in life.