The Art of Breathing
In the US alone there are 18 million adults with some form of respiratory dysfunction. Some form of lung disease which hampers the very thing most of us take for granted every day (The American Lung Assoc.).
It’s something we all do. Every day we wake up. Get up, and go about our day not thinking about this simplest of functions.
But we could!
We could breathe deliberately~
You see it is one of the primary functions of life as a mammal.
We all do it.
Some do it well. Some not so well.
We never give it a second thought until we are struggling to catch our breath!
With the onset of Covid-19 people end up on ventilators struggling to breathe. Some of us don’t make it; the virus kills us. This virus has us all backed into a corner.
Why not put one more arrow in your quiver to fight this deadly virus.
Pranayama can’t guarantee that you won’t succumb to this deadly virus. It could, however, strengthen your lungs enough to give you the edge you need to survive should you get it.
The Origins of Pranayama
In India, the ancients wrote about the breath (prana) as a primary function that could be foremost in our thought process & practiced daily.
In other words, we could consciously think about breathing. . . every day! At least for a period of time during the day.
This practice is called Pranayama or the practice of breathing~ Prana means life force & yama means stretching or extending. Many yoga positions have the suffix “yama” you’ve maybe noticed.
So it could be said that pranayama is the act of extending or stretching the life force.
This article will introduce the reader to this practice. We will look at a couple different styles of pranayama and what benefits we can get from these styles. When and how they can be practiced for the best results.
The practice of pranayama has a rich history in East Indian culture and much has been written in different texts. The Bhagavad Gita & The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are two of those texts.
Pranayama is practiced for many reasons.
Pranayama can promote:
§ Better memory retention
§ Purified blood (better oxygenation)
§ Less stress
§ Better digestion
§ An overall sense of well being
§ Stronger lungs
§ Larger lung capacity
Any one of these advantages alone can lead to a better sense of health, but together they assure a sense of well being unmatched in any other way.
On the following pages, we will explore some of the ways we can use these breathing exercises and give you some tips to help make them something you can be comfortable with as you learn to breathe deeply~
There are 4 basic types of breathing that I use; Two of them are described below. I will go into the other two in another writing. I’m sure others would add one or two or swap one out for another. These are just the ones I practice most often.
Nadhi Sodhana (alternative nostril breathing)
You can sit or lay down to do this exercise. Put your right hand up over your mouth like you might be going to cover it; just don’t cover it.
Close off your right nostril with the pad on your thumb. Extend your pointer finger in a relaxed, straight position with your other three fingers in a relaxed curved position.
Breathe in. As you breathe in relax the abdomen and breathe in fully.
Hold this breath as you release the thumb from the right nostril.
At the same time pull your middle finger over the left nostril and exhale completely.
Hold this position for a moment with your lungs completely empty. Do it long enough to feel the sensation it creates in your chest, your abdomen, and also your mind. Do not do it so long that it becomes uncomfortable.
As you practice this exercise you will be able to set in this position, with no air in your lungs, for longer periods of time. Do not practice it for long periods; just long enough to feel the sensations in your body & mind. Do not force it. There is no place for extremes here.
As you practice this exercise you will get a sense of being here before.
It is a primordial place.
The place where life began for you.
This exercise is invigorating. Use it in the office in the afternoon when the weight of the day has drawn you to a point near exhaustion.
This exercise will send oxygen back into the blood and wake you up. You will feel rejuvenated and alive again.
Kapalabhati Pranayama (breath of fire)
This breathing exercise can be done a couple of different ways depending on your level of fitness. We’ll start this one setting in a chair.
Setting on the edge of a chair with your spine straight take a deep breath. Let this breath out completely. The let the air enter into the lungs again, naturally, with the muscles in the abdomen relaxed. Now force the air out the nostrils in a short burst by using the muscles of the abdomen.
Each time you do this relax the abdomen letting air back into the lungs through the nose. Then repeat this 10 times.
As you practice this breathing technique work on building the speed of the repetitions. However, don’t do it so fast as to make yourself dizzy.
This breathing exercise can help with lowering the level of anxiety, will help with bloating, and helps with digestion. Done as a regular part of a routine, over time, can help build up core muscles. The short contractions in the abdomen area, forcing the air from the nostrils, burns fat and builds up muscle in the area of the abs.
As you progress with this exercise you may decide to go a step further with it.
This exercise can also be done on the floor on a mat.
Sit on the floor with legs extended straight out in front of the torso. Extend your arms & fingers straight out as well. Now lift your legs and tip your torso forward extending your arms out far enough to balance on the buttocks.
Your legs should be off the ground now and you are balanced on your bottom. You may want to practice this for a time before you add the breathing part of the exercise. Practicing Kapalabhati in this way will strengthen your core even further as well as building a better sense of balance.
Not enough can be said for what this exercise can & will do for the digestion. If you are experiencing sluggish digestion; you will see positive results very soon using this exercise. It literally wakes up the digestive system.
This exercise, along with a diet of Kitchari (mung bean & rice soup) will have you right as rain in a matter of a couple of days.
With the Corona virus lurking around every corner; I can’t think of a better time to begin exploration into the act of breathing. You will thank yourself. It will become your “go to” whenever you are feeling a little off your game.
The breath will bring you into the present moment. The only moment we truly have.
Please consult your physician before starting any breathing exercises if you have high or low blood pressure, if you are pregnant, or are diabetic.