Sometimes, life is suffocating. The burden from stress, from people, from expectations, from reality, and from things beyond your control can get overwhelming, and the weight of these negative feelings wrap around your neck, choking you. It’s like you’re drowning in a bottomless pool of your anxieties.
But when that happens, you only have two options: you can either stay down there until you run out of air, or you can clear your head, kick your legs, swim to the surface, and breathe.
In Kimetsu no Yaiba, these negative feelings come in the form of actual man-eating demons. Most of them used to be humans, who’ve succumbed to their demonic ways and have forgotten their humanity, and now their only weakness is the sun and the elements blessed by the sun. These demons are powerful beings who can potentially live forever and regenerate any part of their body, as long as they’re free to kill and consume humans as they please.
But our protagonists are only human, and the series is set hundreds of years ago when technology was basic and the most common weapon is the sword. Without the firepower available to the modern era, the series takes inspiration from an ancient art form to fight the demons instead. Kimetsu takes a concept that’s been developed and practiced in real life for over thousands of years already, and has also been scientifically proven to be a useful exercise to achieve a healthy body and a healthy mind. The characters in Kimetsu no Yaiba fight demons using ideas taken from Yoga.
Specifically, Kimetsu no Yaiba utilizes the fourth rung of Yoga, which is Pranayama. Pranayama is the practice of regulating slow, deep, and subtle breathing, which will ultimately lead to a steadier and concentrated flow of prana (life energy) that helps the mind find balance and focus. In Kimetsu, if you breathe wrong (which, even in real life, is more common than you think), you will not live long. Each second that the characters’ spend mid-breath of their striking technique will determine if they’ll still have their head on their shoulders at the end of a fight. In Pranayama, this moment is the transition — the in-between of inhalation and exhalation. In Kimetsu, this moment is life or death.
And so, it is vital for the characters to practice their breathing. To learn how to regulate the oxygen in their body. To get their blood flowing. To maximize the range of their abilities. To bring awareness to their flaws. Breathing is such a foundation in the series that even the leaders of the demon hunting organization call their captains “Pillars”, and the sword techniques used to fight the demons are called “Breathes”. If you practice your breath and become connected with yourself through this practice, you become powerful.
This is shown through the series’ protagonist: Tanjiro, based on his growth both as a fighter and as a person. The very first volume of the series is immediately a training arc, where Tanjiro learns the way of the sword. But unlike most stories involving swordsmanship, the most important lesson that Tanjiro learns isn’t about his stance or his swing or his blade. His most important lesson is Pranayama and how to control his breathing, so that intrusive thoughts will not muddle his focus.
But the emphasis in breathing techniques isn’t so that you become a superhuman just because you’re breathing right. Instead, the series makes a point to say that the practice of Pranayama is how you know you’re STILL human.
When Tanjiro executes a full breathe strike against his first one-versus-one fight with a demon, Tanjiro is able to make a connection with the demon’s long-forgotten humanity in the middle of the transition. Rather than come at the demon with aggression and murderous intent, Tanjiro strikes the demon down with sympathy and understanding. At the exhalation, both Tanjiro and the demon are able to find peace.
Breathing is a sign that you’re alive. But beyond that, the proper breathing technique clears your mind, relaxes your body, and helps you get in touch with your spirit. Often in our lives we are faced with challenges, and the fear keeps us in place, unable to breathe. And in those moments, remember Pranayama. Inhale. Focus. Exhale. Face your demons.
A/N: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a really good and underrated series in Weekly Shounen Jump about the secret conflict of demons vs humans set in ancient Japan. Please give it a chance and don’t forget to support it when Viz finally releases its first English volume next year!