The Universe Breathes Us Into Existence

Pondering Pranayama, the 4th Limb of the Yoga Sutras

Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga, and it translates to breath retention or breath control. This is the fourteenth post in a series about the 8 Limbs of Yoga. If you’d like to read the others and an overview first, go here. I’ll wait.


Pranayama is profound. Pranayama is practical. Pranayama is powerful. And pranayama is the bridge to all that follows. While asana is the practice that prepares us for sitting practice, it is nothing without the power of the breath.

Prana means breath or life force, depending on whether the first letter is lower case or capitalized, and pranayama is breath control or breath retention. Essentially it’s the practice of consciously directing the breath.

There are many types of pranayamas and each helps us acheive various states of energy within the body. The breath is not to be underestimated.

Ujjayi is one of the first breaths learned and utilized in yoga practice. It allows us to control the flow of our breath and teaches us to respect where we are in our practice. Irratic breath in yoga is an indicator that we are doing too much. The asana-pranayama combination is a primary tool for body awareness.

Some breaths heat us up while others cool us down. Rounds of Kapalbhati (skull shining) can fire up a foggy brain, while Sitali and three part breath can ease our nervous system and help us more effortlessly drift off to sleep at night.

Pranayama is a practice in and of itself. A daily pranayama practice sets the tone for everything else. Energetically, we are tapping into something deeper within and beyond us.

In an extended Yoga Anatomy course I took several years ago, Leslie Kaminoff suggested that we don’t breathe — the universe breathes us. Such a profound way of thinking about it and a less ego-centric way of viewing the world.

“It is important to note that in spite of how it feels when you inhale, you do not actually pull air into the body. On the contrary, air is pushed into the body by the atmospheric pressure (14.7 pounds per square inch, or 1.03kg/cm2) that always surrounds you. This means that the actual force that gets air into the lungs is outside of the body. The energy expended in breathing produces a shape change that lowers the pressure in the chest cavity and permits the air to be pushed into the body by the weight of the planet’s atmosphere. In other words, you create the space, and the universe fills it.” — from Yoga Anatomy by Kaminoff & Matthews (pg 6)
We only exist on earth because of the way we are made, and because of the elements that are present. The exchange of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dance in ways that allow we humans and nature to coexist. What a beautiful, deep, profound, yet extremely simple dynamic!

We take our breath for granted or rarely think of it, yet it is breath alone that gives us life. So … while you can … take long, slow, deep breaths. Ponder the profoundness of it. Bask in the seemingly infinite amount of air here and everywhere.


Thank you for reading! Connect with me on the 19, where you can also download my free e-book, Prelude to Yoga Prayers, the first 25 pages of my first book, Yoga Prayers, which will be released in late 2018.