A Breath of Fresh Air

Sunday, June 14, 2009

by Dr. Marium Murad - Maya Yoga Samudraa Student

“Half a breath, half a life”.

Modern science regards food as the source of energy for the body and has formulated a caloric theory, which is based on nutrition and state of the body to explain our daily food requirements.

In Yogic belief, the energy (prana) required for the human existence is acquired through the air we breathe. Although a lesser quantity of energy is still obtained from the absorption of food and water. Principally, energy is absorbed through exposed nerve endings in the nostrils from the inhaled air that passes over them and through the nerve endings in the mouth and the back of the throat. The skin also absorbs energy directly from the environment. Breathing should be slow and relaxed to allow sufficient time for energy absorption. Food should be well chewed and water sipped slowly and allowed to remain in the mouth for a few seconds so that the energy gets absorbed from it.

Rarely does anyone stop to notice his or her style of breathing. In today’s hectic and busy lifestyle we routinely see our fellow friends chew and speak at the same time, while gulping down large quantities of air from the mouth for breathing. Plus a quick sip of liquid to help the large, relatively unchewed morsel of our on-the-go meal to flush down while carrying on a friendly lunch conversation at the same time. The result of our meal is relatively unchewed large chunks of food, diluted with cold beverage or hot tea/coffee. Only adding more strain to the digestive system. Our working style not any better, as most spend long hours hunched over our computers, greatly restricting our lungs to expand fully and compressing the heart at the same time.

If, for a moment, we put our index finger immediately below our nostril, do we become aware of the fact that we predominantly breathe from one nostril. Truly amazing how this can be when physically both nostrils are wide open. More astonishingly the predominant nostril we breathe from can change during the course of 24 hours. Why and how does it change? I haven’t got a cold or a nasal defect! The more I learn about Yoga, the more I get interested in finding out the amazing facts of this fast spreading phenomenon.

Energy, just like electric energy, has positive and negative force. The positive energy force, “pingala”, flows in through the right nostril to the right part of the nervous system, while the negative force, “ida nadi”, flows through the left nostril into the left side of the nervous system. The positive energy feeds the major organs, while the negative feeds the muscles, bones and tissues. The art of Yoga teaches us to strike a balance in the flow of these two energies. Through different terminologies focusing on the same concept, Yoga states that the right side is the hot (solar), male side, while the left side is considered to be cooling (lunar), female side.

According to yogic science, the act of respiration is four- fold:

  1. inhalation
  2. an inhalatory pause
  3. expiration
  4. an expiratory pause

During inhalation and exhalation, the body energy is in a state of speed and expansion, during the pause the inner energy is in a natural state of contraction or rest. When the breathing is fast and irregular, the body energy is in a state of activity with short pause periods. As a result, the perception is unclear and mind disturbed. When the breathing is slow, deep and regular, the pause periods are longer. The body energy is calm and the power of receptivity and concentration of the mind increases. If you notice, anxiety patients are shallow, rapid breathers. Anxiety and breathing are interlinked, that helping one improves the other.

Breathing is a natural, involuntary, physiological phenomenon. So why regulate or control breathing? The regulation of breath is called Pranayama. In Sanskrit “prana” means breath and “ayama” means control, therefore a control in the movement of breath. Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of Yoga. It is the link between the body and the mind, regulating and conditioning both. Pranayama restores the harmonious functioning of the different systems working in the human body by exercising or massaging the internal organs through the movement of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. In Yoga, the breath and the body are inseparable. Each movement is connected to each breath, likewise the breath is connected to each movement. All Yoga postures coordinate with the breath.

Learning the art of correct breathing requires the guidance of a qualified and experienced teacher. This is of great importance to be able to gain the maximum benefits of Pranayama. I am extremely fortunate to have found an invaluable Yoga teacher coming from a family lineage of classic Yoga teachers from India. Sue explains and talks in such a unique style because she’s got Yoga in her genes and circulating in her blood. Sue taught me how to do Yoga breathing to “vacuum out” the lungs. Giving me scientific facts and health tips along the way.

Breathing can be practiced by anyone from children, young adults, adults to the elderly. It also helps with individuals suffering from various ailments, smokers, drug addicts, alcoholics, on medications, anxiety, nervousness, dizziness and headaches.

The benefits of Pranayama are numerous:

  1. Ensures better supply of oxygen to the blood and elimination of carbon dioxide.
  2. Pranayama is the only exercise that can indirectly massage the heart and tone it.
  3. The nerves and endocrine glands are made healthier by a more liberal supply of pure blood.
  4. The brain and spinal nerves are massaged by internal pressure and by the supply of pure blood.
  5. Decreases life stresses and calms the mind.
  6. Improves focus, concentration and memory.

Breathing is so essential to our existence that life begins with our first inspiration and our final farewell is our last expiration.


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This blog is dedicated to providing Yoga resources for all our students and anyone interested in well-being. We hope that through our posts, we help spread health and happiness.

Important Notice

While every care is taken to provide you with complete information, it is always advisable to approach your Yoga practice with care. This blog is not a replacement for actual classes and it is important that you are fully aware of this.

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