It’s hard to imagine that breathing could be underrated (I mean, without breathing, where would we be?), but it really is. The simple act of airflow through the nose and mouth is not only necessary for life, but also can be an integral part of a feeling of calm, centeredness, and well-being. Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning “breath or breathing” and, in some contexts, “controlled breathing.” It is a combination of Prana (“life force”) and ayama (“to draw out”). Numerous forms and practices exist, involving the timing, manner, and rhythm of the breath. This can include alternating nostrils, adding pauses or specific sounds and phrases, shaping the mouth in a particular way, etc.
The key point is that Pranayama is deliberate and requires focused attention. When was the last time you took a moment to pause and focus on your breathing? Maybe you should. A growing body of medical research supports simple meditation practices as therapeutic tools in depression, anxiety, blood pressure control, and even heart and lung function.
During a recent follow up appointment with a dear patient, I was reminded about these simple truths. My patient had undergone an extensive nasal reconstruction after removal of a large skin cancer, which unfortunately meant that one entire nostril and a part of the tip of the nose had to be recreated. His nasal reconstruction required three separate surgeries and involved tissue flaps and grafts from the forehead, the external ear, and septum. As we concluded our visit, he reminded me that we should all take a minute to breathe – and appreciate that we are doing so.