From an outward perspective, the practice of yoga seems very physical. An often continual progression of movements, yoga is rightly considered to be a physical exercise. But there is one element of the practice that sets it apart from other exercises—the breath. In fact, without the incorporation of a breath focus, the movements we know as yoga would not even be considered as such. The breath is what fuels the practice and transforms it from a simple exercise into a powerful tool for the mind, body, and spirit.

On the breath flows prana, or life force. The careful control of breath, and thus, prana, during a yoga practice helps to not only bring about a sense of calmness to the body but also to the mind. By maintaining our attention on the breath, we are able to remain in the present moment. Although the mind will wander as distractions arise, by returning to a breath focus over and over, the mind becomes trained to more easily find this natural state.

The breath is a central theme during any yoga practice. Fortunately, it is an accessible tool. You are breathing every moment, and so every moment you have the ability to work with your breath. There are a number of techniques to help you keep your attention on the breath, and it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. The best approach is to experiment with different methods and find what works best for you.

You might find that the sound of the breath, or the feeling of the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils, or the way the body moves in response to the breath are useful ways to focus your attention on the breath. You might even like to count your breath or think the word “inhale” when you inhale and “exhale” when you exhale. Each of these techniques can work. Try them all out at different times to find which one best helps maintain your breath focus, and then let that become your habit of creating a steady attention to the breath during practice.