For me, breath distinguishes between living and non-living organisms. Some organisms we can't see breathing, but they do, in fact, breathe (i.e. plants, trees, etc.). I see breath as the uniting force of all living beings. I feel this sometimes when I'm practicing meditation and deep breathing techniques. It puts me in touch with the divinity within me (within all of us, really) and our interconnectedness.
Speaking of pranayama, I want to share a breathing technique that I practice daily. It's very effective for energetic balancing and stress management. Enjoy. . . .
Nadi Sodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
If you don't do anything else, this is a simple yoga breathing exercise that can be done virtually anywhere, anyplace. You will be glad you did. It is simply dynamic!
The name alternate nostril breathing is due to the fact that we alternate between the two nostrils when we do the breathing. Yogis believe that this exercise will clean and rejuvenate your vital channels of energy, thus the name nadi sodhana (purification of nadis or channels).
With this exercise, we breathe through only one nostril at a time. The logic behind this exercise is that normal breathing does alternate from one nostril to the other at various times during the day. In a healthy person the breath will alternate between nostrils about every two hours. Because most of us are not in optimum health, this time period varies considerably between people and further reduces our vitality. According to the yogis, when the breath continues to flow in one nostril for more than two hours, as it does with most of us, it will have an adverse effect on our health. If the right nostril is involved, the result is mental and nervous disturbance. If the left nostril is involved, the result is chronic fatigue and reduced brain function. The longer the flow of breath in one nostril, the more serious the illness will be.
The exercise produces optimum function to both sides of the brain: that is optimum creativity and optimum logical verbal activity. This also creates a more balanced person, since both halves of the brain are functioning property.
The yogis consider this to be the best technique to calm the mind and the nervous system.
Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Do this to the count of four seconds.
Immediately close the left nostril with your right ring finger and little finger, and at the same time remove your thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through this nostril. Do this to the count of eight seconds. This completes a half round.
Inhale through the right nostril to the count of four seconds. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale through the left nostril to the count of eight seconds. This completes one full round.
Start by doing three rounds, adding one per week until you are doing seven rounds.
Alternate nostril breathing should not be practiced if you have a cold or if your nasal passages are blocked in any way. Forced breathing through the nose may lead to complications. In pranayama it is important to follow this rule: under no circumstances should anything be forced. If you use the nostrils for breath control they must be unobstructed. If they are not, you must practice throat breathing.
For more info on pranayama, visit http://www.holisticonline.com/Yoga/hol_yoga_breath_home.htm