Know Your Breath

May 30th, 2010

Know Your Breath

(Compiled from Various Sources)



No science that explains life is so parsimonious, grand and complete as the science of breath. Breath is the inseparable power of the universal life force, the 'prana'. The prana, when present in human beings, gives birth to breath. It is this universal force that breathed forth or exhaled the universe, and, that will in the end, inhale the universe back into itself. In its extent and scope, breath (prana) is as incomprehensible as the ocean of infinity.

The word prana comes from Sanskrit root 'pra' meaning first and 'na' meaning the smallest unit of energy. So the prana itself means the first breath. Prana is the force that governs all the actions or all the actions are merely an aspect of prana. It is the life principle, the dynamic force in human beings and all living forms. When prana is in motion consciousness arises. The greater consciousness, light, wisdom and truth, which are all-pervading but latent, are awakened by regulating the motion of breath/prana. Control of breath leads to health, increase in energy and strength, good complexion, increased vitality, the growth of knowledge and the extension of life span.

It is the breath that maintains constituents of the body such as blood, flesh and marrow. It is impetus and cause of origin of movements of various kinds. It causes the ten senses of perception and action to perform and bears all sensory impressions and sensations to the mind. Prana is the force which holds together the elements of the body and assists in the cohesion of atomic particles. It gives form to the embryo in the womb. It is the cause of speech, touch, sound and scent and is the origin of joy and cheerfulness.

It ignites the internal fire which maintains warmth and metabolism and expels impurities. It penetrates all the channels of the body – both gross and fine – and disposes of all diseases. Prana, through breath, achieves all the functions when the breath is balanced and undisturbed.


Breathing Physiology

The only physiological function which is both voluntary and involuntary is breathing. It can be controlled consciously by the mind or it can be allowed to function automatically like other physiological processes. It is thus an important bridge between the mind and the body and can influence both.

Our breathing patterns reflect our emotional and mental states. The breath is jerky during anger, momentarily ceases during fear, gasps during amazement, chokes during sadness, sighs in relief, is slow and steady during concentration and changes when mind is subject to passing thoughts and emotions of random nature. While it is difficult to control the mind and emotions directly, they can be mastered indirectly by using the breath. In modern times, many scientific studies have confirmed the effect of breathing exercises in the treatment of hypertension and anxiety disorders.

The process of respiration in which oxygen is inhaled and carbon dioxide is exhaled is a fundamental feature of life universally. The respiratory centre that regulates this rhythmic activity is 'medula oblongata'. Respiration is a continuous requirement for an adequate supply of oxygen and life is not possible without a sufficient quantity of oxygen. Through deep breathing we draw energy from the universal reservoir of life. Accordingly, each individual cell maintains its respiratory rate for its individual needs. Finally, all the living cells depend upon satisfactory working of the respiratory system.

Prana is lost from the body during exhalation, excessive exercise, the elimination of waste, emission of semen, the process of childbirth and in times of great emotions. If it is not properly regulated, the system does not receive an adequate supply of oxygen. The loss in appetite may also indicate an imbalance in Prana.

If Prana recedes from any part of the body, whatever the cause may be, the part looses its action. Death is caused by outgoing of prana. At death, prana exits by the way either of the eyes, ears, nose, naval, rectum, urethra or fontanel, leaving an impression at the site it exits. The tendency is to leave the body from the site where the mind dwells instinctively or where the innermost feeling resides.

     Prana on entering the body divides itself into five major functions called 'Vayus' which are prefixed with the term as per their individual function. These are prana vayu, apana vayu, samana vayu, udan vayu and vyana vayu.

     Usually the term vayu is defined as air but at a more subtle level it is the medium in which air exists and the force by which it is held together. Just vayu is the vehicle for manifestations of desire, inclination and motions so is air the vehicle for vayu. Modern science divides it into various elements as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen. In the terrestrial sphere, there are actually forty-nine types of vayu or modifications of prana that reside in the body to perform various functions.

     Prana inside the body flows through nadis, the energy channels. The most important nadis (14) in the body are either weak or strong according to the amount of prana that flows through them.

     The prana vayu governs the region between the larynx and the base of the heart. Its seat is the heart and its energy has an upward motion. The process of inhalation, swallowing, opening the mouth are the resultants. It also involves taking in sensory impressions affecting eyes, ear, nose and tongue. Its energy is utilized for assimilation of food, actions of vital organs specialty heart. It maintains a proper temperature of the body. On the mental side it takes the process of imbibing information, its assimilation and integration.

     The primary influence of apana vayu lies below the naval and its seat or primary abode is rectum. It involves ability to eliminate and eject, what is not needed. It governs kidney, colon, rectum, bladder and genitals. It circulates from the naval to the toes. When apana is not regulated one lacks motivation, feels lazy, sluggish and mentally befuddled.

     Samana vayu governs between the heart and naval and regulates all metabolic activities involved in digestion. Its seat is intestine and affects the pancreas, liver and stomach. It digests the food and separates the nutrients from the waste. In disorder, the nutritive elements are not separated properly and the body retains toxins. Consequently, breath becomes short and one may develop gastric disorders. On the mental level it separates desirable from undesirable thoughts and gives the power of discrimination. When imbalanced, one may be delirious, and unsound of mind.

     The udana vayu is opposite of prana in function. It forces air out of lungs and body and is concerned with speech and sound. It rules above the larynx. When unregulated, speech becomes uncoordinated and one cannot speak properly, shortness of breath and other respiratory irregularities. Breaking of voice and vomiting is also regulated by udana.

     The vyana vayu pervades the entire body as a coordinating and connecting force. It has no specific seat. It governs the ability to have sensory awareness throughout the body and controls the Skin System, perspiration, sense of touch, taste, sight and hearing. It enables one to have coordinated body movement as per nerve impulses. The muscular system (relaxation and contraction), both voluntary and involuntary, coordinated balance, the cerebrospinal system are also controlled by vyana. It enables one to deal with the way to react with the environment.

     The breath which flows in the right nostril is described as hot and that flowing in the left is cold. Thus the nadi that connects the right nostril (pingala) is called the sun and the left as moon (ida). The right energy channel thus produces heat in the body which is stimulating and conducts energy towards the organs of the body for performance. The energy in the left has a cooling effect and is inhibitory to the organs.

     While one usually believes he or she is breathing through both the nostrils, the ancient and modern texts confirm that breath alternates between the right and left nostrils. This results in one nostril being dominant at any point in time. Breath will alternate approximately every one hour and fifty minutes to maintain equilibrium in the body temperature. These rhythms are perfectly tuned in well practiced yogis. In an average person this alternation varies greatly due to subtle and gross causes. For example, disease, habits, food intake may divert its normal flow. If breath in one nostril is continuous, more than normal, it indicates imbalance.

     A person in good health begins to breathe through left (ida) channel, the left nostril, at sunrise or about six o'clock on the first day following new moon. Then the flow changes to right nostril and continues to alternate back and forth at about every two hours throughout the whole twenty four hours. This pattern is followed for three days. Then, at sunrise, on the fourth day, the breath will begin in the right nostril and will continue to alternate in the described manner. Every third day this pattern will alternate.

     The alternation of the breath is brought about by the mucous membrane in the nostrils, which become hot, swollen, and in state of erection on the side in which the breath is not flowing freely. The energy channel produces this condition and causes the breath to change from one nostril to the other. When the body is functioning perfectly, one may calculate the exact time of the day and determine the nature of the events by the rhythmic erectility of the nosal mucous membrane, because it is so clockwise in regularity. This alternating erectility also enables one to study the functions of the sympathetic nervous system and the mechanism which regulates the heart.

     When the breath remains dominant in either nostril for over twenty-four hours, it clearly indicates some illness. If this lasts longer, it means serious illness and when one nostril dominates for two or three days, then one is due to be extremely ill.

Breath and Longevity

     A man generally takes fifteen breaths a minute and this makes 21,600 breaths per day (15 x 60 minutes per hour x 24 hours per day). At this rate of breathing one can live for at least 120 years as limited by the fundamental principle on which respiration is based. This principle recognises that not all of the force or energy released during exhalation is gained during inhalation. One during normal exhalation looses energy extending to 12 inches of space but what is regained during inhalation is only 8 inches of space, resulting in a net loss of 4 inches at every respiratory cycle. A part of energy that ought to have entered the body is lost in every process of respiration and thereby the normal life span of 120 years is considerably reduced. In eating, the breath exhaled out extends to 18 inches. In walking it goes out upto 24 inches. Running forces it out at 42 inches. In sexual activity it goes out to 50 inches. In sleeping, it extends to 60 inches. This explains the truth how excessive breathing reduces the normal life span and eventually leads to death.

     Modern science also confirms that a man breathes in and out 12,000 liters of air per day. This is according to the respiratory rate of 18 per minute and respiratory depth at 500cc. As the inspired air contains only 20% oxygen, the expired air contains only 16% percent oxygen. It indicates that the oxygen retained by the body is only 4 percent (480 liters per day). Similarly, the blood does not distribute more than 20% of its oxygen to the tissues. It is thus inferred that the span of life will be reduced if one loses life force; but if it does not go, one's life may be longer or may continue indefinitely.

     This is what the "Law of Inverse Proportion" of modern time also indicates. The span of life is inversely related to the rate of breathing. In ancient times, the normal span of life was 120 years and a normal man breathed 21,600 times per day, that is, 15 respirations per minute. If the rate of breathing is, however, 18 per minute the span of life will be 96 years. It because of poor living habits and needless expenditure of energy, the average rate of breathing is 30 per minute, the span of life will be only 60 years. However, if the rate is slowed through yogic practices and self control to an average of only 5 respirations per minute the life span will be 360 years. If it is one per minute, the life span will increase to 1,800 years. And if the rate of breathing is reduced to zero, the life span becomes infinity. Modern zoological science also confirms the law of inverse proportions: the sea turtle lives to an age of more than 300 years and breathes at the rate of four to five respirations per minute. Other animals such as frog, mice, bear go into hibernation during winter and their breathing is drastically reduced during that time.

Conservation & Storing Up of Prana

Our ancient siddhas developed slow rhythmic breathing patterns in order to prevent such a loss of energy that enabled them to live as long as they wished, serving mankind. As oxygen is taken up by the circulatory system, so is prana taken up and is spent in the act of thinking, desiring etc. Regulation of breath enables one to absorb a greater supply of prana to be stored up in the brain and the nerve centres, for use when necessary. It should be remembered that every function of the body is dependent on nerve-force supplied by the prana emanting from the sun and circulating in space. Without this nerve-force, the heart cannot beat, lungs cannot breathe, blood cannot circulate. This prana not only supplies electric force to the nerves, but it also magnetises the iron in the system to produce 'aura' as a natural emanation. It is the first step in the development of 'personal magnetism' which is easily acquired by the practice of 'Pranayam'. Great leaders throughout history were naturally endowed with this personal magnetism.

Supplying oxygen to the cells and release of carbon dioxide resulting from oxidation are the main purpose of respiration. Respiration that takes place in lungs is known as internal respiration. The science of longevity is mainly concerned with internal respiration. The secret of longevity lies in the technique of diverting the breathing to the subtle channels and centres. Our Yogi's have developed a peculiar method for taking prana from cerebral region through the opening behind uvula. Concentration on the psychic centres and the mystic gland in hypothalamus, the pineal release ambrosial fluid called "Elixir of Life". This strengthens the human system and makes it invulnerable to decay, degeneration, disease and death.



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