What’s the first thing we do in life?
What’s the last thing we do in life?
The answer of the first question is taking the first breath and the answer for the second is releasing the last breath.
Breathing is a huge blessing that we take for granted. I think even most of us don’t even realize that we breathe. About a year ago, I stumbled into yoga practice. Then I learned a little bit about pranayama. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, prana, life force energy, particularly, the breath, and ayama, control or mastery. Pranayama is used to control, cultivate, and modify the prana in the body. Prana is taken in through the air we breathe, and since the pranayama exercises increase the amount of air we take in, they also increase our intake of prana.
We Breathe the Wrong Way
Most of us breathe too shallow and too quick. So-called modern technology and automation reduces our need for physical activity. Thus, there is less need to breathe deeply, so we’ve started developing the habit of breathing shallowly.
By breathing shallowly we are not taking sufficient oxygen and are not removing enough carbon dioxide. The result is building up toxin in our body and reduced vitality, poor immune system, fatigue, sleep disorder, and premature aging. It even causes mood swing.
Why Is Breathing (Correctly) Important?
Breathing is the only means of supplying our bodies with oxygen. It is also one of the ways to get rid of waste products and toxins from our body.
As we know oxygen is vital for our existence. It is the most vital nutrient in our bodies and is essential for the proper functioning of the brain, nerves, glands and other organs. Among our organs, brain requires more oxygen than any other organs. If it doesn’t get enough, the result is mental sluggishness, negative thoughts, depression and, eventually, vision and hearing declines.
By breathing correctly we can supply enough oxygen for our body which leads to purification of blood stream.
Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating stress, improving autonomic functions, relieving symptoms of asthma, and reducing signs of oxidative stress.
I have had the chance to learn more about pranayama through Art of Living. It started when my office, in collaboration with Art of Living, organised a course to manage stress. I directly joined the 5-day-programme. During the programme all the participants were required to be vegetarian in order to maximize the detoxification process.
Every day I was introduced to various breathing techniques, such as ujjayi breath, nadi sodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and bhastrika and also sudharsan kriya.
This breath is also known as the victorious or ocean breath. It is used throughout the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. It also provides more resistance during the practice as breathing this way ensures that you take in enough oxygen and creates enough energy for the workout.
The ujjayi breath basically consists of inhaling and exhaling through the nose. In the same time you are supposed to make a hissing noise with the back of the throat during the inhalation and exhalation. The ujjayi breath consists of three parts. As you inhale the air will first fill the stomach, then the rib cage, and finally the upper portion of the chest.
It is a simple breathing exercise that you can use to relax and calm your body as well as to improve your health and mental fitness. This exercise helps particularly well when you are having a lot of anxious thoughts or when your trying to quiet your mind of too much mental chatter.
How to do this breathing technique? First, sit in a comfortable crosslegged position. Using your right hand, fold your pointer and middle fingers into your palm, leaving your thumb, ring finger, and pinky sticking up (Vishnu Mudra). Then bring your thumb to the right side of your nose and your ring finger to the left side. Close off your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril. Close off your left nostril with your ring finger. Open and exhale through your right nostril, then inhale through your right nostril. Close off your right nostril with your thumb. Open and exhale through your left nostril, then inhale through your left nostril. Continue alternating 5 to 10 times. This process will cause you to begin feeling more calm and relaxed even after just a minute or two
This breathing technique will increase ventilation, increase blood circulation, increase clearing of nasal passages and releive inflammation of throat, remove diseases of the nose and chest and eradicates asthma. Practicing this breathing technique regularly is said to help you keep diseases away.
To do this technique you need to be seated in comfortable posture in padmasana (crossed leg) or vajrasana (zen pose). Place your hands on your knees. Then breathe in by inhaling forcefully through both the nostrils. Make sure that your lungs are full with air. Once you inhale fully, exhale with great force making hissing sound. In bhastrika pranayama you need to apply force while breathing in and breathing out.
Su means proper, darshan means vision, and Kriya is a purifying practice. The Sudarshan Kriya is therefore a purifying practice, whereby one receives a proper vision of one’s true self. The rhythmic breathing pattern of Sudarshan Kriya harmonizes the rhythms of the body, emotions and mind. Just as emotions affect our patterns of breathing, we can bring about changes in our mental state by altering the rhythms of our breath.
Sudarshan Kriya is an integral part of the Art of Living programmes.