Every Breath You Take…Importance of Pranayam & Stomach Breathing..
By Prithu Nath
Suddenly every Human on this planet is conscious about their Breathing. Oxygen has attained the Importance which is next to nothing short of the Divine !
One of the Best Places to Get that whiff of fresh air and the aroma of Pine Needles is just 300 KM’s from New Delhi at a Place Called Kasauli. Birds View Kasauli is home away from home and it is where one can Practice Pranayam and Rejuvinate Oneself.
Blood carries oxygen in two forms, the majority is bound to haemoglobin (oxyhaemoglobin) and the rest is dissolved in the aqueous phase of blood (the plasma). The dissolved fraction is dependent upon the partial pressure of oxygen. As the partial pressure increases, the dissolved fraction of oxygen increases.
Consistent practice of yoga postures and pranayama increases the lung’s airflow, air capacity, stamina and efficiency. Back bending postures open the chest, improving both lung and heart functions. Upper back bends and chest opening postures relieve hardness if it is harder to exhale during asthma attacks. Forward bends and lower back bending poses relieve difficulty if it is more difficult to inhale. Inverted postures drain excess mucus from the lungs and balance the immune system. A general yoga practice reduces stress, physical tension, and muscle tightness and increases overall feelings of well being by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
Deep breathing helps because the bottom of your lungs have more alveoli to absorb oxygen than the top or middle, but you also have to take big breaths and breathe slowly enough to absorb the oxygen. Thus the Technique of Breathing from the Stomach actually gets more air to the bottom of your lungs !
Pranayam as explained in Bhagwad Gita now becomes more important than ever in attuning our body so that it can work optimally with minimal Oxygen. Just in case one gets Covid and is short on breath the Practice of Pranayam will help the individual in getting past Covid as one has conditioned their body as per the teachings of Shri Krishna.
The Song of God or Bhagwad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 29 explains the Importance of Breath, because every one of us begin our lives and end our lives with the first and last Breath. Something so important but we all took this for granted till Covid 19 struck.
apāne juhvati prāṇaḿ
prāṇe ’pānaḿ tathāpare
prāṇān prāṇeṣu juhvati
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 4.29
Still others, who are inclined to the process of breath restraint to remain in trance, practice by offering the movement of the outgoing breath into the incoming, and the incoming breath into the outgoing, and thus at last remain in trance, stopping all breathing. Others, curtailing the eating process, offer the outgoing breath into itself as a sacrifice.
Breath contains prana or life force without which we cannot live. Breath can also be used as a tool in asanas, pranayama and meditation to attain higher states of consciousness. A rationale for manipulating breathing is explained in the pre-Buddhist Chandogya Upanishad (6.8.2). A sage tells his son: “Just as a bird tied by a string flies off in all directions and, on not reaching any other place to stay, returns to where it is tied, in the very same way, dear boy, the mind flies off in all directions and, on not reaching any other place to stay, returns to the breath. For the mind, dear boy, is tied to the breath.”
BREATH IN PRANAYAMA
“Prana means life force and ayama means ascention, expansion and extension. Pranayama is the expansion of the life force through control of the breath.” (Iyengar, 2002) In meditation we are passively observing the breath, but in pranayama we are actively controlling it using various techniques employed and developed by India’s ancient yogis.
Many different techniques and methods of pranayama have been discovered and developed with varying purposes such as heating the body, or cooling the body, or cleansing the lungs, or calming the mind. However, the main intent of pranayama seemingly is to assist the Sadhaka (practitioner) to retain his breath (kumbhaka) longer in a smooth, controlled and systematic way. This ultimately can lead to Kevala kumbhaka – a state in which the breath becomes naturally suspended without any effort, resulting in Samadhi and kaivalya (absorption and emancipation)
By careful observation of our breath, we can begin to note certain characteristics about the breath. For example, we will notice that breath can be divided into four parts; inhalation, retention after inhalation, exhalation, and retention after exhalation. In Sanskrit, these four phases of the breath cycle are respectively referred to as puraka, antara kumbhaka, rechaka and bahya kumbhaka. Kumbahaka means the retention of breath.
Another aspect of breath we may observe is that breath is inhaled and exhaled either through mainly the left nostril, which corresponds to the Ida Nadi, and is cooling; or breath may be inhaled and exhaled through mainly the right nostril. In Swara yoga it is said that the breath changes from one nostril to the other every one or two hours and that during the transition period, both nostrils may be open for a brief period of time.
When we meditate on our breath, we can observe it either at the point where it enters our nostrils, or we may concentrate on the expansion and contraction of our chest area or the abdomen area. In proper yogic breathing, it is advised to breath from the abdomen. It is also advised to breath slowly and deeply for several reasons. One reason is that slow and deep breathing is supposed to calm the mind, and relieve any tensions.
So, if you are meditating and your mind is jumping from thought to thought in a restless fashion, try making your inhalations and exhalations as long as possible. Do this as an exercise for a couple of minutes and then continue normal breathing but with your mind still focusing on your breath.
A keen observer will also realize that the breath is intimately interconnected with the emotions. “Many illustrations could be given of the mathematical relationship between mans respiratory rate and the variations in his state of consciousness. A person whose attention is wholly engrossed, as in following some closely knit intellectual argument, or
in attempting some delicate or difficult physical feat, automatically breathes very slowly. Fixity of attention depends on slow breathing; quick or uneven breaths are an inevitable accompaniment of harmful emotional states; fear, lust, anger.” (Yogananda, 2007) So generally, we can say that calm, relaxed, and slow peaceful states of mind result in slower breaths and nervous, agitated or restless states of mind lead to faster breathing.
The last reason why slow and deep breathing is beneficial has to do with longevity. “The restless monkey breaths at the rate of 32 times a minute, in contrast to man’s average of 18 times. The elephant, tortoise, snake and other creatures, noted for their longevity, have a respiratory rate that is less than man’s. The great tortoise, for instance, which may attain the age of 300 years, breaths only 4 times a minute.” (Yogananda, 2007) This same theory can be applied to human beings: those who breathe slowly, may live longer.
Finally, it needs to be stated that correct meditation or true meditation occurs when the subject – the breather, merges or unites with the object, in this case, the breath, and also with the process of breathing. So when breather, breathing and breath unite as One, then the goal of meditation has been attained.
Brahma Vaishnava Sampradaya – Commentary
Continuing Lord Krishna explains that others who are devoted to pranayama or regulation of the breath offer the prana or outgoing breath to the apana or incoming breath and the incoming breath to the outgoing breath. In this way they arrive at the stage of kumbhaka or complete restraint of the breath and this is considered to be yagna or offerings of worship.
Shri Vaishnava Sampradaya – Commentary
Lord Krishna states that other yogis or those practising the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness; they devote themselves to pranayama or breath control consisting of three parts called rechaka or exhalation for 16 beats, puraka or inhaling for 32 beats and kumbhaka or cessation of breath for 64 beats. For every breath the prana or outgoing breath is offerred as yagna or worship into the apana or incoming breath and the apana is offered into the prana. These yogis require light diets and follow strict regimens of practice.
BREATH IN ASANAS
Just as in meditation, it is wise to focus on the breath during the practice of asanas. Basically, it can be used as a tool for concentration and for calming and relaxing the mind while one is holding an asana position. It helps the body and mind to relax.
The breath can and should also be used for coming into and out of each asana. As a general rule, one should exhale when the body is contracting and inhale when the body is expanding or opening up. So, for example, we should exhale going into “Pashchimottanasana” (the forward bend), and inhale coming out of this posture. It can also be added that generally, one should inhale with exertion to increase the supply of oxygen to the blood.