Just what else could be as fundamental and more fitting to “101” than breathing? Our life literally depends on it.
We can live without food or water for days but only minutes without the oxygen we breathe.
But what if breathing is more than just sustaining our bodies? What if it also has the power to restore and heal them?
That’s what we’re going to learn about the most essential, yet often overlooked aspect of our health: breathing.
For us to have a comprehensive scope of the subject, we’re going to combine ancient wisdom with modern science.
Pranayama: The Science of Breathing
The word Pranayama is composed of two Sanskrit words, Pran, meaning “Life or Universal Life Energy”; and Ayam, meaning “to extend or elongate.”
Therefore, Pranayama means to extend life.
Advait writes a wonderful analogy in his book, Pranayama, for a better understanding of what it is.
He says that if chakras are the rotating windmills that produce energy to sustain life, then prana is the wind that makes the hands of the windmill rotate in order to produce energy.
It’s essentially the same process that happens to our energy centers (remember, chakra means “wheel”) as we breathe. Only with Pranayama practice, we do it consciously.
Advait says that when we practice Pranayama, we regulate the process of drawing in the universal life force, thus enhancing our health and longevity.
Did you know that 70% of the body’s way of removing toxins is carried out through breathing when we exhale? And only 30% are distributed to other excretory organs.
So think about the health implications of that fact if we’re not breathing properly. It’s huge! The quality of our breathing can spell the difference between illness and wellness.
Studies on Breathing
Before we dive into the practice of Pranayama, let’s look at what the research found out about the effects of these breathing techniques on our bodies.
In the latest comprehensive article published by the National Library of Medicine, the conclusion of one study states:
Slow breathing techniques promote autonomic changes increasing Heart Rate Variability and Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia paralleled by Central Nervous System (CNS) activity modifications. EEG studies show an increase in alpha and a decrease in theta power.
What that translates to is increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor, and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.
In another experimental study involving 40 participants, whereby 20 of them have undergone 20 sessions of “diaphragmatic breathing” or “deep breathing” over an 8-week period, the findings showed that compared to baseline, the deep-breathing group:
- had a significant decrease in negative stress effects after the intervention
- had significantly increased sustained attention after training
- had a significantly lower cortisol (the stress hormone) level after training
The conclusion states:
This study provided evidence demonstrating the effect of diaphragmatic breathing, a mind-body practice, on mental function, from a health psychology approach, which has important implications for health promotion.
Studies after studies reveal the multifaceted benefits of practicing breathing techniques.
Here’s a summary of their findings:
- Physiological evidence has indicated that even a single breathing practice significantly reduces blood pressure, increases heart rate variability (HRV) (Wang et al., 2010; Lehrer and Gevirtz, 2014; Wei et al., 2016) and oxygenation (Bernardi et al., 1998), enhances pulmonary function (Shaw et al., 2010), and improves cardiorespiratory fitness and respiratory muscle strength (Shaw et al., 2010)
- A daily 15-minute breathing training for 2 weeks significantly promoted mean forced expiratory volume in 1 s and peak expiratory flow rate (Bernardi et al., 1998) (expiratory process pertains to the exhalation of air; remember 70% detoxification?)
- Breathing with a certain frequency and amplitude was found to relieve clinical symptoms in patients of all ages with sleep-disordered breathing (Chervin et al., 2006)
- Evidence from yoga practice also confirms a reduction of sympathetic and an increase of parasympathetic nervous system activity (Vempati and Telles, 2002; Raghuraj and Telles, 2003)
- Cardiac vagal tone (a stress index) is assumed to form part of the shared physiological basis of breathing and emotion. It is influenced by breathing and is also integral to vagal nerve stimulation that is closely associated with the physiological basis of emotion, including emotional regulation, psychological adaptation (Sargunaraj et al., 1996; Beauchaine, 2001), emotional reactivity and expression, empathic responses, and attachment (Porges, 2001)
Now that we know it’s backed by research and scientific studies, it’s time that we put these breathing techniques into practice.
Pranayama Breathing Technique
Advait teaches 14 beginner to intermediate breathing techniques and he also provides a link in his book for the free e-mail course on advanced Pranayama Techniques.
For each technique, he describes the method, the duration, and its uses, as well as some precautions if you have a particular health condition.
We won’t be going through all of them here, but I’ll be sharing the one that I find most appealing to me and applicable to the general public given its uses.
Note that I personally don’t do the proper cross-legged sitting position because I simply can’t, hah! I’m more comfortable just sitting regularly while maintaining a healthy posture. Nonetheless, that doesn’t prevent me (or anyone) from experiencing the benefits of this breathing technique.
Anulom-Vilom Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
- Sit in Sukhasan (cross-legged) or a comfortable position and place one hand (either left or right) on your knee with your palms facing up
- Form Dnyanamudra on your other hand by joining the tips of your index finger and your thumb while keeping your other fingers outstretched
- Close your eyes
- Close your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand and inhale through your left nostril until your lungs are full
- Then close your left nostril with the ring and middle finger of your right hand and exhale through your right nostril
- Inhale back through your right nostril then close your right nostril with the thumb and exhale through your left nostril
- Then inhale back through your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril
Pay attention to it that you inhale through the same nostril that you have used to exhale. Be comfortable and calm. Do this breathing exercise slowly.
And remember, as we have studied earlier: deep breathing. Breathe fully using your diaphragm — the proper way of breathing.
Proper breathing is the first foundation you’ll learn in The Path to Awesomeness Starter Kit with the belly-breathing exercise of the Awareness of Breath. With daily practice, diaphragmatic breathing will become your default way of breathing and you’ll be reaping the health benefits we’ve just talked about.
Now, let’s incorporate it into this Pranayama breathing technique.
At first, perform it for 3-4 minutes, and then with practice, gradually increase the time to 12-15 minutes.
- It is the most effective detox exercise.
- It expels all the toxins out of the body through your breath.
- It is an excellent cure for hypertension.
- It is very helpful in curing ear disorders.
- When performed regularly, it prevents the occurrence of cancer.
- It is found to be helpful in curing leukoderma.
- It is very helpful in curing bronchitis.
- And a lot more
Whenever I do this alternate nostril breathing, I feel the same tingling sensation (like it’s opening up; an expansive feeling) in my chest that I have with the Heart-Space Meditation (also included in the starter kit). Such an awesome experience!
And there you have it, Prana friends.
If you’re looking for where to start making a change in your lifestyle to heal yourself and optimize your wellbeing, start with your breath.
Start living your healthy ever after now!