When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.
~Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika
When the world rushes by,
Like a subway train
Breathe in Breathe out
When all you can hear
Is a torrent of rain
Breathe in Breathe out
When you’re feeling, significantly,
Slightly less sane
Breathe in Breathe out
And when things slow down,
You can maintain
breathe Out breathe In
No thoughts just breathing
No regret just breathing
No self pity just breathing
No worries about tomorrow just breathing
No thoughts of…
Most of us do not think twice about our pattern of breathing, because it is automatic. Well, yes, unconsciously we all continue to breathe due to our autonomic nervous system but to what extent do we truly give ourselves what our bodies need for optimum health?
Except for diseases associated with smoking, the respiratory organs are largely ignored. By understanding a few basic principles of how the respiratory process works and interacts with the body and mind, we can gain more understanding of how our body functions on many different levels.
The effects of inhalation and exhalation extend far beyond the physical exchange of air in and out of the body…they extend to the workings of the heart and lungs as well as to subtle molecular processes through which the body’s energy production is maintained.
All life forms are composed of tiny living units called cells, each requiring a continuous source of energy. Our body’s tissues and organs are composed of these cells and they must function properly in order to keep us alive. The nutrients supplied by the food we eat act as a fuel but it must be converted into a form that these individual cells can use or we would die.
In prana, the root word ‘pra,’ meaning ‘to fill,’ is added to the root word, ‘an,’ (‘to breathe’ or ‘to live’) creating the new meaning ‘the life that fills with the breath.’ In other words the life principle in action.
Prana commonly translates as ‘air,’ ‘breath,’ ‘spirit,’ ‘life,’ ‘life force,’ ‘energy,’ ‘subtle energy,’ or ‘the upwards moving energy currents within the body.’
Prana is a subtle form of energy. Prana literally means ‘breathing forth’ the universal life force.
Breathing properly connects your body to your mind and spirit, if you connect those 3 elements well, you will definitely make your life better.
In the respiratory system of mammals, a thin sheet of tissue called the pleura wraps around the lungs and lines the chest cavity. The area between the layers of pleura is known as the pleural space, or pleural cavity, and it contains pleural fluid, which provides lubrication as the lungs expand and contract.
Unlike all other mammals, the pleural cavity of elephants is filled with tough connective tissue. This unusual structure allows elephants to snorkel and withstand the differences in pressure above and below water, without rupturing the blood vessels in the lining of their lungs, according to a 2001 article in journal Respiration Physiology.
2. Breathing through the mouth can, over time, create a shrinking of the jaw – resulting in crooked teeth (or a relapse after having your braces removed).
3. Breathing through the mouth is the biggest cause for children developing a lisp when they talk.
4. Getting up during the night to urinate is most likely due to breathing with the mouth open. Breathing through the mouth causes the bladder to shrink, making one feel as though they need to head to the bathroom asap!
5. The more you breathe (hyperventilation) the hungrier you will be and the more acidic the body will become.
6. You should only ever exercise to the intensity that you can keep your mouth closed.
7. We naturally change sides in our sleep approximately every 30 minutes, and this is mostly due to the balancing of the breath through each of the nostrils.
11. If the lungs were open flat they would cover the size of a tennis court!
No matter what anybody tells you, yogic breathing is typically done through the nose, both during inhalation and exhalation.
For traditional yogis, the mouth is meant for eating and the nose for breathing. Here are three good reasons to breathe through the nose:
- Since you are breathing through two small holes instead of one big one, it slows down your breathing. In Yoga, slow is good.
- According to traditional Yoga, nasal breathing stimulates the subtle energy center, which is located near your sinuses. This location is the meeting place of the left (cooling) and the right (heating) current of vital energy that act directly on the nervous and endocrine systems.
- Your nose is the only organ able to properly prepare the air you breathe; mouth breathing leads to over-breathing, chronic hyperventilation, depleted carbon dioxide levels, reduced blood circulation and narrowing of the airways
In addition to relaxing the body and calming the mind, yogic breathing has a spectrum of other benefits. Here are some:
• It steps up your metabolism (the best way to prevent weight increase).
• It uses muscles that automatically improve your posture.
• It keeps the lung tissue elastic, which allows you to take in more oxygen.
• It tones your abdominal area.
• It strengthens your immune system.
• It reduces your levels of tension and anxiety.
Relaxing with a couple of deep breaths
Think about the many times you’ve heard someone say “Now just take a couple of deep breaths and relax.” Well, it really works!
Yogic breathing is like sending a fax to your nervous system with the message to relax.
Try the following exercise:
1. Sit comfortably in a chair.
2. Close your eyes and visualize a swan gliding peacefully across a crystal-clear lake.
3. Now, like the swan, let your breath flow along in a long, smooth, and peaceful movement. Ideally, inhale and exhale through your nose.
4. Extend your breath to its comfortable maximum for 20 rounds; then gradually let your breath return to normal.
5. Afterward, take a few moments to sit with your eyes closed and notice the difference in how you feel overall.
Practicing safe yogic breathing
Here are a few safety tips to help you enjoy your experience.
- If you have problems with your lungs (such as a cold or asthma) or heart disease, consult your physician before embarking on breath control, even under the supervision of a Yoga therapist.
- Don’t practice breathing exercises when the air is too cold or too hot. Avoid practicing in polluted air, including the smoke from incense. Whenever possible, practice breath control outdoors or with an open window.
- Don’t strain your breathing — remain relaxed while doing the breathing exercises.
- Don’t overdo the number of repetitions.
- Don’t wear any constricting pants or belts.
“It is a common belief that we breathe with our lungs alone, but in point of fact, the work of breathing is done by the whole body. The lungs play a passive role in the respiratory process. Their expansion is produced by an enlargement, mostly downward, of the thoracic cavity and they collapse when that cavity is reduced. Proper breathing involves the muscles of the head, neck, thorax, and abdomen. It can be shown that chronic tension in any part of the body’s musculature interferes with the natural respiratory movements.
Breathing is a rhythmic activity. Normally a person at rest makes approximately 16 to 17 respiratory incursions a minute. The rate is higher in infants and in states of excitation. It is lower in sleep and in depressed persons. The depth of the respiratory wave is another factor which varies with emotional states. Breathing becomes shallow when we are frightened or anxious. It deepens with relaxation, pleasure and sleep. But above all, it is the quality of the respiratory movements that determines whether breathing is pleasurable or not. With each breath a wave can be seen to ascend and descend through the body. The inspiratory wave begins deep in the abdomen with a backward movement of the pelvis. This allows the belly to expand outward. The wave then moves upward as the rest of the body expands. The head moves very slightly forward to suck in the air while the nostrils dilate or the mouth opens. The expiratory wave begins in the upper part of the body and moves downward: the head drops back, the chest and abdomen collapse, and the pelvis rocks forward.
Breathing easily and fully is one of the basic pleasures of being alive. The pleasure is clearly experienced at the end of expiration when the descending wave fills the pelvis with a delicious sensation. In adults this sensation has a sexual quality, though it does not induce any genital feeling. The slight backward and forward movements of the pelvis, similar to the sexual movements, add to the pleasure. Though the rhythm of breathing is pronounced in the pelvic area, it is at the same time experienced by the total body as a feeling of fluidity, softness, lightness and excitement.
The importance of breathing need hardly be stressed. It provides the oxygen for the metabolic processes; literally it supports the fires of life. But breath as “pneuma” is also the spirit or soul. We live in an ocean of air like fish in a body of water. By our breathing we are attuned to our atmosphere. If we inhibit our breathing we isolate ourselves from the medium in which we exist. In all Oriental and mystic philosophies, the breath holds the secret to the highest bliss. That is why breathing is the dominant factor in the practice of Yoga.”
― Alexander Lowen, The Voice of the Body