'We too should make ourselves empty, that the great soul of the universe may fill us with its breath' - Laurence Binyon
Breath is life
BREATHING is the first act of our lives and within the breath itself is the secret of life.
The act of breathing is performed involuntarily without us having to give it any thought.
This is because breath is a function of our autonomic nervous system; the control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions such as the heart rate, digestion and respiratory rate.
Respiration is one of the few involuntary functions that we can consciously change by mindfully engaging in the process.
The ‘monkey mind’ is calmed as a result of this participation and even the heart rate can be slowed as other healing faculties are also revealed (research on long-term meditators has revealed this phenomenon).
It is as if the body is being breathed and from the perspective of spiritual ecology, we might ask the question of the mystics: ‘Who is breathing?’
Awareness and invisible air share an ineluctable affinity that is primordial; the same air that we breathe now, carrying with it life force, has been breathed by every sentient being from day one.
Perhaps we can recall what it is to be fully part of this world when we directly experience the air through conscious breath; for this is the same element that not only intimately envelops us but all other species of plant and animal.
No ‘one’ breathes alone because breathing is happening in this body and every other living thing, everything literally sharing one giant breath. An animal body breathing produces carbon dioxide, which some nearby tree, plant or grass breathes in and exhales as oxygen so that another animal can breath it in.
Breathing consciously is the essence of yoga
Ordinary breathing becomes a powerful spiritual practice when we add conscious intention to it.
Conscious breathing assists us in connecting with the subtle energy within because it is through the breath that we are able to navigate different levels of consciousness.
Moreover, breathing consciously has a biological effect on our mental, emotional and physical state.
Our health can be dramatically enhanced with deep breathing practices that open the lungs and maximise the absorption of prana.
Prana is the unifying life force that threads body, mind and spirit together on a single strand of breath, enabling them to act together as a single organism. We gain prana through air, fresh foods and rest; and also through meditation.
Shortness of breath is one of the very first symptoms of disease, due to the diminished cosmic energy in the body.
A lack of Prana results in lethargy, dullness and poor enthusiasm. When the inhalation is deep, then the body gets more energy.
Similarly, when the breath is small then less spiritual powers enter into the body.
When our bodies are lively with Prana, we feel alert, energetic and full of good humour. Prana is the very basis of health and well-being for both body and mind.
The art of breathing
Yogic breathing, known as pranayama, is an integral part of yoga practice, opening our awareness to the vastness of ultimate reality.
Prana, means ‘life force’ and ayama means ‘extension’. Pranayama is the conscious awareness of breath: the life force that both energises and relaxes the body.
In yoga it is understood that an intelligent control of our breathing power will lengthen our days upon earth by giving us increased vitality and powers of resilience.
Most yoga schools teach a variety of breathing exercises, however there is one essential skill to develop that can benefit everyone health-wise; and this is to simply use the diaphragm (the main breathing muscle in the body) independently of movements in the spine.
The belly expands to the front and the sides during inhalation. Breathing from the midsection of the torso slows down and deepens respiratory patterns.
People suffering from coronary disease are usually all thoracic (upper chest) shallow breathers with a more rapid breath rate who can surely benefit from diaphragmatic breathing.
The breath of Life
Life-energy is drawn into being with this ebb and flow of the breath. Any respiratory disturbances, which inhibit gas exchange, can lead to a lowering of the body’s vitality, an increase in metabolic disorders and degeneration of tissue.
Breath can be a carrier of energy and when it is focused properly, it can move energy from one place to another, clear energetic blocks and provide a vehicle for the effective direction and application of the medicines of the spirit, light and sound.
When we place our full attention on the breath, we pull ourselves out of the past, away from the future and directly into the present moment.
Breathing consciously awakens powerful creative healing and energies in us. Forming an intention while focusing on the feelings of expansion and relaxation as you breathe in and out, can create rapid positive changes in your life.
If we only have so many breaths per lifetime, then ultimately the aim of yoga is decrease the amount of breaths made per minute, so that we breathe less, but more efficiently.
It is said that if we breathe 15 times per minute, we will live to 75 or 80 years. If we breathe 10 times per minute we will live to 100.
The speed at which we breathe will dictate the length of life.
If we breathe fast, our life will be shortened. It says this is why dogs have short lives. The early-accomplished masters of yoga were capable of suspending their breath indefinitely in Samadhi.
OUR RESPIRATORY system is constantly working. All day, every day, it is the vehicle for oxygen to enter our body.
Unfortunately, it can also be an entry point for pollutants, irritants, dust, mould, fungus, harmful organisms and other toxins. The constant exposure to impurities can take its toll.
Fortunately, whether you’re experiencing the effects of inhaling toxins, or simply want to ensure your lungs are always at peak performance, nature has provided a number of herbs and botanicals that provide deep nutrition for the respiratory system.
Some herbs and their oils are useful for treating breathing problems because they soothe, soften and hydrate the respiratory system due to their high mucilage content.
People with chronic respiratory issues, such as asthma, chest congestion, chronic bronchitis, or allergies can take comfort in some of the wonderful lung tonic herbs.
The pertinent use of the pulmonary plants and their oils can greatly enhance breathing, be it unconscious or conscious. Herbs that support lung health typically do so through one or more of the following actions:
• Soothing irritated nasal passages and airways.
• Acting as an expectorant that helps break up and expel chest congestion.
• Relaxing the muscles near the upper respiratory system to quell a cough.
• Calming the release of histamines.
• Deterring the harmful organisms that produce upper respiratory issues.
• Providing a source of antioxidants to reduce oxidative damage and redness.