Practicing yoga postures without breath awareness sustains physical benefits such as increased flexibility, deepening strength, improved balance.
When breath becomes an integral component of asana, the mind focuses and can achieve the single-pointed awareness so often mentioned by the ancient sages.
Breath awareness is key for deepening yoga practice because it links the mind-body into a unified being. As it anchors the mind to the physical movement (or non-movement), it awakens the body’s intelligence, as B.K.S. Iyengar says.
Mindful awareness then turns the practice from a purely physical level into meditation for the practitioner.
Breath awareness is also key to opening into more mindful awareness of life itself. When my thoughts or emotions start to spin out in their all too often merry escapades, I find that checking in on my breath can slow the wild energy down and I can more easily glimpse the reality I am experiencing sans whatever emotional or mental machinations surrounding said reality.
A simple practice for increasing your conscious awareness of your personal breath patterns is to simply notice the breath and then give it a short name, such as rushing breath, or lazy breath, or not-breathing (yes, breath holding is more common than you might think), or hyper-ventilating.
Checking in with the breath, whenever you think of it during the per day, will increase your mindful awareness of the moment. As a bonus, you may find, as I have, that breathing FEELS good. Through continued practice, I have found a beautiful relationship developing with my breath. It’s a marriage that gives me much pleasure.