One of the five principles of Yoga is pranayama or breathing exercise which promotes proper breathing. The Yogis realized the importance of an adequate oxygen supply thousands of years ago that is why they developed and perfected various breathing techniques that will help to revitalize the mind and the body.
Pranayama, the science of breath control, consist a series of exercises intended to meet these needs and to keep the body in vibrant health. Proper breathing in a Yogic point of view is to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and to control prana or the vital life energy. These techniques have also proved to help the prevention of major diseases and cure minor illnesses. Breathing is important for two basic reasons. It is the only means of supplying our bodies and its various organs with oxygen which is vital for our health. Breathing is one of the ways to get rid of waste products and toxins from our body.
Why Oxygen is so vital?
Oxygen is the most vital nutrient in our bodies.
It is essential for the proper and efficient functioning of the brain, nerves, glands and other internal organs.
We can survive without food for weeks and without water for days, but without oxygen we will die within a few minutes.
If the brain does not get proper supply of this essential nutrient, it will cause degradation of all the vital organs of the body.
The brain requires more oxygen than any other organ. If it doesn’t get enough, the result is mental sluggishness, negative thoughts, depression and, eventually, vision and hearing declines. Oxygen supply in our body, however, declines as we get older and if we live a poor lifestyle.
Oxygen purifies the blood stream
One of the major secrets of energy and rejuvenation is a purified blood stream. The quickest and most effective way to purify the blood stream is by taking in extra supplies of oxygen from the air we breathe. The Breathing Exercises described in this website are the most effective methods ever devised for saturating the blood with extra oxygen. So here are a few things about what oxygen do to our body:
Oxygen recharges the body’s batteries (the solar plexus).
Most of our energy requirements come, not from food, but from the air we breathe.
By purifying the blood stream, every part of the body benefits, as well as the mind.
Rejuvenation of the skin will start to occur.
Scientists have discovered that the chemical basis of energy production in the body is a chemical called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). If something goes wrong with the production of ATP, the result is lowered vitality, disease and premature aging.
Scientists have also discovered that oxygen is critical for the production of ATP; in fact, it is in fact its most vital component.
The work done at Baylor University in the USA has shown that you can reverse arterial disease in monkeys by infusing oxygen into the diseased arteries.
Yoga permits us to tap into this vital nutrient.
Importance of Healthy Breathing
We know how to breathe. It is something that occurs automatically, spontaneously, and naturally. We are breathing even when we are not aware of it. So it seems foolish to think that one can be told how to breathe. Yet, one’s breathing becomes modified and restricted in various ways, not just momentarily but habitually. We develop unhealthy habits without being aware of it. For example:
We tend to assume positions such as slouching that diminishes lung capacity to function properly, which result to shortened breaths.
We also live in social conditions that are not good for the health of our respiratory system.
A normally sedentary person, when confronted with a perplexing problem, tends to lean forward, draw his arms together, and bend his head down. All these body postures result to reduced lung capacity. However, we also tend to have some bad habits that affect our breathing and here are a few reasons.
As our duties, responsibilities and their attendant problems become more demanding; we develop habits of forgetting to breathe.
The more we concentrate on something, the tenser the muscles become. This leads to the contraction of the muscles in your arms, neck and chest.
The muscles that move the thorax and control inhalation and muscular tenseness clamp down and restrict the exhalation.
The breaths become shorter and shorter.
After an extended period of intense focusing, the whole system seems to be frozen in a certain posture.
We become fatigued from the decreased circulation of blood and from the decreased availability of oxygen for the blood because we have almost stopped breathing.
Try an experiment suggested by Swami Vishnudevananda:
Focus attention upon the ticks of a clock placed at a distance of about twelve feet.
If you get distracted, try concentrating harder until you experience the ticking with undivided attention.
If you fail at first, you should try again and again until you succeed in keeping the ticking clearly in mind for at least a few seconds.
What happened? The majority of persons who took part in this experiment reported that they have completely suspended the breath. The others, who concentrated less, reported that they experienced very slow breathing.
This experiment shows clearly that where there is concentration of the mind, the breathing becomes very slow or even gets suspended temporarily.
What’s Wrong with the Way We Breathe?
Our breathing is too shallow and too quick.
We are not taking in sufficient oxygen and we are not eliminating sufficient carbon dioxide. As a result, our bodies are oxygen starved, and a toxic build-up occurs. Every cell in the body requires oxygen and our level of vitality is just a product of the health of all the cells.
Shallow breathing does not exercise the lungs enough, so they lose some of their function, causing a further reduction in vitality.
Animals which breathe slowly live the longest; the elephant is a good example. We need to breathe more slowly and deeply.
Quick shallow breathing results in oxygen starvation which leads to reduced vitality, premature ageing, poor immune system and a myriad of other factors.
Why Is Our Breath Fast and Shallow?
There are several reasons why our breath becomes fast and shallow. The major reasons are:
We are in a hurry most of the time. Our movements and breathing follow this pattern.
The increasing stress of modern living makes us breathe more quickly and less deeply.
We get too emotional too easily.
We get easily excited or angry, and most of the time, we suffer from Anxiety due to worry.
These negative emotional states affect the rate of breathing, causing it to be fast and shallow. On the other hand here are some other reasons due to unknown wrong breathing habit.
Modern technology and automation reduces our need for physical activity. There is less need to breathe deeply, so we develop the shallow breathing habit.
We are working indoors more and more. This increases our exposure to pollution. As a result, the body instinctively inhales less air to protect itself from pollution.
The body just takes in enough air to tick over.
As we go through life, these bad breathing habits we picked up become part of our lives. Unless we do something to reverse these habits, we can suffer permanent problems. The good news is that these are reversible. The bad news is that before we can change these habits, we should recognize and accept that our behavior needs to be changed. This means that we see for ourselves the benefits of good breathing techniques.
Certainly, Yoga is not the only way to cope with stress and the resultant drop of oxygen supply in the brain brought on by constricted breathing. Taking a break, going to the restroom, or having a good laugh may all result in some readjustment of constricted breathing patterns. We can benefit by taking or seeking more breaks, trips or jokes. But people whose occupations continue to be highly stressful, something more will be needed. Deep breathing exercises and stretching of muscles, especially those primarily concerned with controlling inhalation and exhalation, should be sought. Participation in active sports will also be useful. Going for a walk is very good. For those experiencing restricted breathing at night, morning exercises should be actively pursued.
The Effects of Shallow Breathing
Shallow breathing can result to:
Reduced vitality, since oxygen is essential for the production of energy in the body
Susceptibility to diseases. Our resistance to disease is reduced since oxygen is essential for healthy cells. This means we catch more Colds and develop other ailments more easily.
With our ‘normal’ sedentary way of living, we only use about one tenth of our total lung capacity. This is sufficient to survive, but not sufficient for a high vitality level, long life and high resistance to disease.
Poor oxygen supply affects all parts of the body. When an acute circulation blockage deprives the heart of oxygen, this will result in a heart attack while a stroke is the result of poor oxygen supply in the brain.
Scientists have known for a long time that there exists a strong connection between respiration and mental states. Improper breathing produces diminished mental ability. The outcome is true also. It is known that mental tensions produce restricted breathing.
Some research made regarding various heart diseases and cancer due to lack of oxygen supply in the body.
For a long time, lack of oxygen has been considered a major cause of cancer. Even way back as 1947, a study done in Germany showed that when oxygen was withdrawn, normal body cells could turn into cancer cells.
Similar research has been done with heart disease It showed that lack of oxygen is a major cause of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Modem science agrees with the ancient Yogis on the subject of shallow breathing.
An editorial in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggested that fast, shallow breathing can cause: fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety, stomach upsets, heartburn, gas, muscle cramps, dizziness, visual problems, chest pain and heart palpitations.
Scientists have also found that a lot of people who believe they have heart disease are really suffering from improper breathing.
Elderly people and those whose arteries are clogged often become senile and vague because the supply of oxygen towards the brain is reduced. They get irritated very quickly.
People who have sedentary jobs and spend most of the day in offices have oxygen starved brains and their bodies are just ‘getting by’. They feel tired, nervous, irritable, and are not very productive. On top of that, they sleep badly at night so they get a bad start for the next day and this cycle continues.
This situation also lowers their immune system, making them susceptible to catching colds, flu and allergies.
Importance of Breathing through the Nose
The first rule for correct breathing is that we should breathe through the nose. This may seem obvious, but many people breathe principally through the mouth.
Mouth breathing can adversely affect the development of the thyroid gland, and can retard the mental development of children.
Pathogens can also enter the lungs through mouth breathing that makes it impossible to be healthy. It is easy to break the habit of breathing through the mouth. Just keep your mouth closed and you will automatically breathe through your nose.
The nose has various defense mechanisms to prevent impurities and excessively cold air entering the body.
At the entrance to the nose, a screen of hairs traps dust, tiny insects and other particles that may injure the lungs if you breathe through the mouth.
After the entrance of the nose, there is a long winding passage lined with mucus membranes, where excessively cool air is warmed and very fine dust particles that escaped the hair screen are caught.
In the inner nose are glands which fight off any bacilli which have slipped through the other defenses. The inner nose also contains the olfactory organ-our sense of smell. This detects any poisonous gases around that may injure our health.
The Yogis believe that the olfactory organ has another function: the absorption of Prana from the air. If you breathe through the mouth all the time, as many people do, you are cheating yourself of all this free energy (prana). The Yogis say this is a major factor in lowered resistance to disease and impairs the functioning of your vital glands and nervous system. The Ancient Yogis knew the importance of correct breathing and developed techniques not only to increase Health and life span, but also to attain super conscious states.
Therefore, Yoga proves to have beneficial effect on the body if done with proper breathing. However, proper breathing should also be practiced and must be done habitually.
Written by: jennibagus for ABC-of-Yoga.com