Pranayama

Breathing is a process that we rarely give any thought to. It occurs automatically without our awareness, yet at the same time it is something that most people do incorrectly. If breathing is a spontaneous function of the body, how is it possible to do it incorrectly? The answer is that our respiratory muscles become lazy and cease to give optimum inhalation and exhalation.

Our whole life is entirely dependent on breathing. If we stop breathing then life itself ceases in the body. Life and breath are intimately connected. Remember, when a person dies we say that he expires, the same word used for breathing out, or for breath leaving the lungs. We can survive for a few days without drinking water, a few months without taking food, but how long can the average person survive without drawing air into  he lungs? In most cases no more than a few minutes. It is written in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the ancient text on yoga: “Life is the period between one breath and the next; a person who only half breathes, only half lives. He who breathes correctly, acquires control of the whole being.” The ancient yogis were fully aware of the importance of breath; no breath no life; breath is life.

In yoga it is said that each person has a fixed number of breaths allocated to him. If one breathes slowly then one will live longer, for the number of breaths is allocated for the lifetime; if one breathes rapidly the given number of breaths are used up more quickly resulting in a shorter life span. Whether you accept this idea or not, there is nevertheless a great deal of truth in it. A fast breathing rate is associated with tension, fear, worry, etc. which tends to lead to bad health, unhappiness and of course a shorter life. A person who breathes slowly is relaxed, calm and happy, which is conducive to longevity. A person who breathes quickly tends to inhale small volumes of air and exhale the same small volumes; this tends to allow germs to accumulate in the lower
areas of the lungs. Conversely, a person who breathes slowly tends to also breathe deeply and thereby fill the lungs to a greater depth. This helps to remove stagnant air from the lower reaches of the lungs and to destroy the breeding ground of germs and the germs themselves. There are other reasons that relate longevity to slow and deep breathing. For example, deep breathing imparts a good massage to the abdominal organs via the
diaphragm. This is a natural and essential subsidiary function of the breathing process, which is often overlooked. The massage of the liver, stomach, etc. keeps them in good working order by expelling old, impure blood and allowing pure, oxygenated blood to replace it. Shallow breathing connected with fast breathing does not give the internal organs the massage they require. This can lead to various diseases. It, in itself, does not cause them, but tends to encourage the onset in conjunction with other body factors.

Shallow breathing also leads to insufficient oxygen in the body. This causes functional disturbances and illnesses concerned with circulatory, digestive and nervous systems, since the efficiency of these systems is entirely dependent on healthy, well-nourished nerves and organs, which depend completely on oxygen for survival.

YOGIC BREATHING

This combination of the three types of breathing
induces optimum volume of air into the
lungs and expels the maximum amount of
waste air during exhalation.

Technique

Inhale slowly by allowing your abdomen to
expand.
Try to breathe so slowly that little or no sound
of breath can be heard.
At the end of abdominal expansion, start to
expand your chest outwards and upwards.
At the end of this movement draw your
collarbone and shoulders toward your head.
This completes 1 inhalation.
The whole process should be one continuous
movement, each phase of breathing merging
into the next, without there being any obvious
transition point.
There should be no jerks or unnecessary strain.
Your breathing should be like the swell of the
sea.
The rest of the body should be relaxed. Now
start to exhale.
First relax your collarbone and shoulders.
Then allow your chest to move, first downwards
towards the feet and then inwards.
After this allow the abdomen to contract.
Don’t strain but try to empty the lungs as
much as possible by drawing or pulling the
abdominal wall as near as possible to the spine.
Again the whole movement should be a
harmonious whole.
This completes 1 round of yogic breathing.
Hold your breath for a second or two at the
end of each inhalation and exhalation.
Inhale and do another round.
Do up to 5 rounds on your first day of practice.
Don’t strain.
Every day increase your practice by 2 rounds,
or as time permits.
Ten minutes yogic breathing is a reasonable
length of time to eventually aim at. With
enough practice you will find that the whole

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