Breathing is the most important of all of the functions of the body because all the other functions depend upon it. Nervous system affect breathing and breathing patterns affect the autonomic nervous system and eventually all the organs in our body. Man may exist some time without eating; a shorter time without drinking; but without breathing his existence may be measured by a few minutes. And not only is Man dependent upon Breath for life, but he is largely dependent upon correct habits of breathing for continued vitality and freedom from disease. An intelligent control of our breathing power will lengthen our days upon the earth by giving us increased vitality and powers of resistance, and, on the other hand, unintelligent and careless breathing will tend to shorten our days, by decreasing our vitality and laying us open to disease.
Man in his normal state had no need of instruction in breathing. Like the lower animal and the child, he breathed naturally and properly, as nature intended him to do, but civilization has changed him in this and other respects. He has contracted improper methods, shallow breathing and attitudes of walking, standing and sitting, which have robbed him of his birthright of natural and correct breathing. He has paid a high price for civilization.
It is very important to first learn how to do natural breathing. Man's physical, mental power, happiness, self-control, clear-sightedness, morals, and even his spiritual growth may be increased by an understanding of the Science of Breath.
Regulating the lungs is the most vital process in cleansing the human system. Proper breathing means that the breath is not shallow, jerky, or noisy, and that there are no lengthy pauses between the exhalation and inhalation. Noisy breathing is a symptom of blockage or obstruction. Long pauses in the breath mean that one is high-strung and has emotional blockages. Such pauses are not created when people are happy, but occur when they are experiencing some agony, problem, or insecurity. There is a brief natural moment between inhalation and exhalation, but it should not be expanded by bad breathing habits. Such a pause, if unnecessarily expanded, can be a killer; it can create coronary heart disease.
When one regulates the motion of the lungs by certain breathing exercises, the pores function properly and the tissues and cells become healthy. The air we inhale helps all the systems in our body to conduct their respective functions, and in controlling the motion of our lungs we are regulating the exchange in the storehouse of vital energies.
Tips before starting breathing exercises:
- Nostrils should be cleaned before doing breathing exercises
- Do not practice advanced exercises when hungry or when stomach is full.
- Unless breathing exercise is not while lying; always perform breathing exercises with head, neck, and truck in one straight line.
- Remember 4 no's: One is, no noise in the breath; two, no shallowness; three, no jerkiness; and fourth, no pause between inhalation and exhalation.
Diaphragmatic Breathing (Corpse Posture)
It is a necessity if one wishes to practice any other breathing exercises as it is part of natural/complete breath. Basically diaphragmatic breathing is when upper stomach is expanded during inhalation.
Technique - 1 (using Corpse Posture):
- Lie down on his back, feet and arms slightly apart with palms up, in the corpse posture. Use a soft pillow under your head if needed.
- Close your eyes.
- Put a small sandbag on the abdomen. Normally 12 to 15 pounds is the recommended weight necessary to strengthen the diaphragm for adults. Once the habit is formed, it is no longer necessary to use the sandbag.
- Keeping the head, neck, and trunk aligned and the lips closed, one should exhale, allowing the abdomen to contract. Let the upper abdomen and base of the rib cage expands naturally with the inhalation. Do not create muscle blocks.
The best way to breath diaphragmatically is to practice the crocodile posture for relaxation. This posture enables you to establish diaphragmatic breathing automatically.
Technique – 2 (using Crocodile Posture) :
- Lie on the stomach, placing the legs a comfortable distance apart and pointing the toes in or out, whichever is more comfortable.
- Fold the arms in front of the body, resting the hands on the biceps.
- Position the arms so that the chest does not touch the floor, as pictured. Then place the forehead on the forearms.
- As you lie in the posture, observe your breathing. Let the breath become deep and smooth. You may use a cloth beneath the nostrils to keep from inhaling dust.
- While inhaling, feel the abdominal muscles gently press against the floor.
- While exhaling, feel the abdomen contract.
- Let the body relax completely.
- It is considerably supportive for those who are affected with slipped-disc, sciatica, lower back pain, and other spinal defects.
- It calms the mind, soothes the nervous system, and focuses the mind.
- It helps quickly identify any anxious or nervous feelings you might have around your stomach area and gives you opportunity to let go and relax that area.
- If this is practiced three times a day, one will be a totally transformed person in a month's time, thinking differently and feeling very energetic.
- It is beneficial for overall physical and mental health.
- Relaxed diaphragmatic breathing further strengthens the involuntary nervous system and establishes a balance between the intake and the output of the lungs.
Deep Breathing Exercises
Deep inhalation and shallow/short exhalation is extremely bad for heart. The motion of the lungs goes through needless stress. The motion of the lungs is related to the heartbeat, and the blood supply is also related to that. The right vagus nerve, which is responsible for digestive, is also involved. So the entire system becomes irregular in its functioning.
Simple deep, rhythmic breathing, with inhalations and exhalations of equal duration has been proven beneficial for blood pressure, insomnia, and heart-attack. It also strengthens nervous system and leads to voluntary regulation of the respiratory system. This is the secret of healthy body and a sound mind.
Deep Breathing Exercise (Standing):
- After morning ablutions, stand firmly in a calm, quiet and airy room (with windows open); preferably in open air.
- Exhale through nostrils, keeping the head, neck, and truck erect.
- Try to keep the body as motionless as possible except for the motion of the stomach muscles and chest that are involved in deep breathing.
- Apply the root lock by contracting the sphincter muscles of the rectum and pulling them inwards and upwards.
- Exhale through nostrils, smoothly, without any exertion and without any sound.
- Having exhaled completely, do not pause but start inhaling deeply through the nostrils. Inhalation should be equal to exhalation.
- Do this about 10 times every morning for at-least 2 months.
Deep Breathing Exercise (Lying):
- Lie on the back with the feet a comfortable distance apart and the arms along the sides of the body, palms up.
- Gently close the eyes and place the hands on the upper abdomen, between the rib cage and the navel, in order to feel the movement of the muscles.
- Inhale and exhale through nostrils slowly, smoothly, and deeply. There should be no noise, jerks or pauses in the breath. Inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration.
- Exaggerating the normal breathing process, consciously pull in the abdominal muscles while exhaling. Aspirants who find difficulty in practicing this diaphragmatic movement may use their hands to gently push in the abdominal muscles when exhaling. When inhaling be aware of the abdominal wall pushing out. There should be a slight movement of the chest.
- Practice this method of deep breathing 3 to 5 minutes a day.
Alternate breathing (Channel Purification)
It is a breathing exercise which purifies subtle energy channels and therefore it is extremely beneficial for nervous system and overall physical and mental health. If student practices this exercise for 5-10 minutes, 3 times a day, then his emotional life will become balanced and his nervous system will be purified.
- Sit in a calm, quiet, airy place in an easy and steady posture.
- Keep the head, neck and trunk straight and the body still.
- Bring the right hand up to the nose. The index finger and middle finger should be folded so that right thumb can be used to close the right nostril and the ring finger can be used to close the left nostril.
- Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Exhale completely through the left nostril. Exhalation should be slow, controlled and free from exertion and jerks.
- At the end of the exhalation close the left nostril with the ring finger, open the right nostril and inhale slowly and completely. Inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration.
- Repeat this cycle of exhalation with the left nostril and inhalation with right nostril, two more times.
- At the end of third inhalation through the right nostril, exhale completely through the same nostril, still keeping the left nostril closed with the ring finger.
- At the end of the exhalation, close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril.
- Repeat the cycle of exhalation through the right nostril and inhalation through the left nostril two more times. This completes the exercise.
- To sum up, the exercise consists of:
- 3 cycles of exhalation through the left nostril and inhalation through the right nostril followed by.
- 3 cycles of exhalation through the right nostril and inhalation through the left nostril.
- In the evening the exercise consists of:
- 3 cycles of exhalation through the right nostril and inhalation through the left nostril followed by
- 3 cycles of exhalation through the left nostril and inhalation through the right nostril.
- It should be done at-least twice a day – once in morning and once in evening.
- Both inhalation and exhalation are of equal duration and are slow, controlled and free from jerks as well as any sense of exertion. With time, gradual lengthening of the duration of inhalation and exhalation should be attempted.
The best way to establish even breathing is to concentrate on the navel center. Exhale to the navel, and then inhale to your comfortable capacity. Then repeat that process. This is will regulate your breath. An alternative is to exhale to your toes and come back to the crown of your head. This will help you to make your breath even without counting – because when you count, it sometimes leads you to create a jerk or an irregularity in the breath with each digit.
When you are jogging or walking, learn to breathe in a manner in which you inhale to a count of eight and exhale to a count of sixteen. If you do that, you will not become tired for a long time. If you usually can walk for only 10 miles, using this exercise you can walk 20 or 30 miles without any tiredness. In this exercise you do not allow the carbon dioxide waste gases to remain inside to create toxins in your body. The bowels, kidneys, lungs, and pores are the 4 main apertures that clean the body. If your bowels, pores, lungs, and kidneys are efficient, then toxins will not build up in the body. If the body is free from toxins, then it is healthy.
Ocean (Ujjayi) Breath
It soothes the nerves and calms the mind. It oxygenates the blood and balances the male and female energies in the body. It also stimulates circulation and metabolism and increases concentration.
- Sit in a stable posture with the head, neck and truck erect.
- Place the bottom of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The tip of your tongue is pointing toward the back of the mouth; as far back as it can go without strain.
- Exhale completely.
- Now breathe in slowly and deeply through the nostrils. The incoming air should be felt on the roof of the palate and should make a soft, continuous, sobbing sound. This is most easily done by mentally repeating the Soo……ooooo during the in-breath. The abdomen should be slightly contracted during the inhalation.
- Now, without any pause, exhale the air slowly through the nostrils. The outgoing air should also be felt on the roof of the palate and should also be audible. This sound is best achieved by mentally repeating the sound Humm…….mm during the out-breath.
- This completes one cycles of ocean breath. It may be repeated for about 5 minutes.
This exercise cleans the sinuses and respiratory passages as well as stimulates the abdominal muscles and digestive organs. It has no equal as an exercise for enhancing oxygenation. It has beneficial effects on the nerves, as well as improving the circulation and metabolism. But this exercise should be done after some practice of “Deep Breathing”, “Alternate Breathing”, and “Ocean Breathing”.
- Sit in the “Accomplished posture” only. It is because a vigorous practice os kapalbhati vibrates almost every tissue of the body. The body becomes more and more agitated as the exercise is continued with its original vigor until it becomes difficult to control one’s posture. Thus the foot lock in “Accomplished” posture is necessary to maintain one’s seat throughout the exercise.
- It consists of a vigorous, forceful expulsion of breath, using the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, followed by a relaxation of the abdominal muscles resulting in a spontaneous inhalation.
- This constitutes one cycle. Several cycles are repeated in quick succession. In the beginning one attempts between 7 and 21 cycles, depending upon one’s capacity.
- Speed should not be allowed to reduce the vigor of the abdominal contractions.
Bellows (Bhastrika) Breathing
In this exercise the abdominal muscles move forcefully in and out like a blacksmith’s bellows. In this exercise both exhalation and inhalation are vigorous and forceful. Together they constitute one cycle, and several cycles (between 7 and 21) are to be repeated in quick succession. It has similar benefits as that of kapalbhati.
Advanced Breathing Exercises (Breath Retention)
Advanced breathing exercises consist of retention of breath, and one can harm himself irreparably if he attempts retention without guidance and without disciplining his diet, sleep and sex. Only a competent teacher (Guru) can advise one to start practicing retention when he is ready for it.
- Breathing By Boyan Boev
- Respiration Spiritual Dimensions and Practical Applications By Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov
- Science of Breath By Swami Ramacharaka
- The 10 Tibetan Breaths By Edwin J Dingle