Every day of your life, you breathe in and out about 20,000 to 30,000 times. You’re probably not even aware of breathing – unless you have some kind of bronchial or lung problem. And like a close friendship, it’s the same with breathing: it’s so taken for granted and therefore ordinary. And in this self-evidence lies the danger. To put it bluntly, automatic breathing is not necessarily an advantage, because automatic does not mean optimal. In fact, most people’s breathing habits are pretty poor and anything but effective. They collect a lot of stale air in their lungs that is as unproductive as a boring relationship. Bad breathing is known to cause and promote stress and anxiety. Shallow breaths cannot adequately oxygenate the four liters of blood in our veins and as a result, toxins accumulate in our cells. Without quite knowing why, you feel mentally sluggish and depressed because of bad breathing. Moreover, these toxins lead to organic dysfunction. It’s no wonder that just by using the right breathing technique, you can so effectively influence the functions of your body and mind.
However, there is an alternative way of breathing called Pranayama – Yogic Technique of Breathing. This proper breathing technique recharges your blood with oxygen, among other things, which in turn nourishes your body’s cells and contributes to your overall health. The human body can survive without food, water, sun, and sleep for relatively long periods of time, but without oxygen, the body will only survive for a few minutes. Prana, the vital energy of the body, is what separates life from death and its primary source is the breath. The quantity and quality of air, as well as the rhythm of breathing, have a direct effect on the brain and its functions. Western science is just starting to explore this field of study. There are certain breathing exercises, which increase the amount of energy in the body, cleanse the lungs, decrease the need for sleep, calm the nerves, quiet the mind, warm or cool the system and even contribute to awakening the Kundalini, or spiritual energy contained in the body.
Adequate relaxation is also necessary to maintain physical, mental and spiritual health. Pranayama, mentioned above, include special techniques for relaxation. When combined with the fundamental principles of meditation, these techniques also stress the importance of conserving and utilizing the energy within the body efficiently. Many people think that relaxation consists of leaving home for some exotic location, where the mind and body will be constantly bombarded by stimulants, sedatives and a whole range of delicious poisons. It is not surprising to hear comments like this: “I was looking forward to finishing my vacation and returning home to rest”. Authentic relaxation is about eliminating visual stimuli, gastronomic stimuli, etc., and tuning the mind to inner awareness.
In yoga, consciously controlled breathing techniques are used for the following purposes:
✓ You can use these techniques along with the various postures to enhance their effects and prepare the mind for meditation.
✓ You can use them to increase vitality as a separate exercise.
✓ You can use them as a healing method, where you consciously direct the breath to a specific body part or organ to release an energy blockage and facilitate healing. This is the yogic counterpart to acupuncture.
Before you immediately make drastic changes to your breathing technique, be patient and analyze your breathing style first. Perhaps it would be helpful to observe your breathing habits for a few days, noting how your breathing changes in different situations. To review your breathing habits, ask yourself the following questions:
✓ Is my breathing shallow? Does my abdomen and chest move very little when I fill my lungs with air?
✓ Does my breathing frequently get out of sync?
✓ Do I get out of breath easily?
✓ Does my breathing sometimes go very labored?
✓ Do I generally breathe too fast?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are an ideal candidate for yogic breathing. But even if you can answer no to all the questions, conscious breathing can only benefit your physical and mental health.
Women take between 14 and 15 breaths per minute, while men take 12 to 14. Breathing significantly faster – which usually occurs in conjunction with chest breathing – is called hyperventilation and leads to a lack of carbon dioxide. Your body needs this gas to maintain the acid-alkali balance of the blood.
The Cosmic Side of Breathing
Ancient yoga scriptures state that we take an average of 21,600 breaths a day. This number, which is also recognized by modern research, has a deep symbolic value. Here is the reason: 21,600 is one fifth of 108,000. The number 108 or a multitude of 108 has a special meaning in India. It alludes to the astronomical fact that the Earth’s distance from the Sun is 108 times greater than the Sun’s diameter. The 108 beads of the rosary, used by many yoga practitioners in India, also symbolizes this. A whole cycle of the rosary represents a symbolic journey from the earth to the sun, i.e. from normal to higher consciousness. And not coincidentally, the number of breaths per day is also just one fifth of 108,000, because 5 is the number associated with the element of air. This correlation between the body-mind complex and the universe is just one of many correspondences found by the ancient yoga masters.
Relaxation With a Few Deep Breaths
Think of how many times you have heard the phrase, “So, now take a deep breath and relax.” The reason this advice is on everyone’s lips is that it actually works. Pain clinics use breathing exercises to relieve pain. In women’s clinics, both parents learn yoga breathing techniques to ease the birthing process. Since the 1970s, so-called stress gurus have been teaching yogic breathing techniques to corporate managers.
Simply try the following simple exercise to experience the beneficial effects of proper breathing:
✓ Sit comfortably on a chair.
✓ Close your eyes and imagine a swan gliding majestically over a still lake.
✓ Now let your breath come in a slow and calm movement. If possible, breathe through your nose during this exercise. If you have a stuffy nose right now, try a combination of mouth and nose breathing. If that is not possible either, just breathe through your mouth.
✓ Breathe in and out slowly about 20 times, lengthening the breaths constantly. Then slowly return to your normal breathing.
✓ Then sit for a moment with your eyes closed and become aware of your improved general condition.
✓ Do you realize how comfortable you feel only after 10 or 15 minutes of yogic breathing exercises?
Breathe Through Your Nose
No matter what others may tell you, yogic breath always goes through the nose, both when inhaling and exhaling. Yogis (male yoga practitioners) and yoginis (female yoga practitioners) traditionally use the mouth to eat and the nose to breathe. Here are three good reasons for nasal breathing in the yogic technique of breathing:
✓ Breathing is slowed down because you can only breathe through two small openings. Yoga emphasizes slowing down.
✓ When air enters the nose, it is warmed and filtered. Ideally, the air we breathe contains only dust particles; at worst, it contains all the toxins of a normal big city.
✓ According to traditional yoga texts, nasal breathing is supposed to stimulate the energy center – in Sanskrit: Ajna chakra – located in the sinuses between the eyebrows. This location is the point where the left (cooling) and right (warming) streams of vital energy meet, both of which act directly on the nervous and glandular systems.
Some people may not be able to breathe through their noses because of a health problem. But don’t worry! Yoga is very flexible. If you find it difficult to breathe while lying down, just sit down. Your breathing pattern can also be influenced by the time of day. For example, it would be possible that your nose is stuffy in the morning due to allergies, but this will clear up as the day goes on. Of course, only you can determine these differences. Try a few options before deciding on a particular technique. To start with, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If that doesn’t work, just breathe through your mouth for the time being and don’t worry about it. Yogic breathing involves breathing much more deeply than normal, which allows more oxygen to enter your body. Don’t be surprised if these exercises make you a little dizzy at first. Then simply take a short break.
Always remember: there is no need to rush in yoga. In both abdominal and chest breathing, the abdomen is drawn in as you exhale. From a mechanical standpoint, the yogic technique of breathing looks like this: It moves the spine and activates all the muscles and organs of the respiratory system, which primarily include the diaphragm, abdominal muscles, lungs, and heart. During contraction, the diaphragm is pulled down, giving the lungs more room to inhale. The chest is noticeably expanded. During relaxation, the diaphragm moves back to its upper position, driving air out of the lungs.
In addition to physical relaxation and mental calmness, yogic breathing offers a wide spectrum of other benefits:
✓ It improves your metabolism (the best precaution against weight gain).
✓ It activates muscles, which also ensure better posture. With yogic breathing, you avoid the stiff and slumped posture that most people assume as they get older.
✓ It keeps your lungs flexible, allowing you to take in more oxygen to feed your 50 trillion cells.
✓ It ensures the harmonious functioning of your internal organs, where many diseases originate.
✓ It strengthens your immune system.
✓ It Eliminates Anxiety And Tension.