Breathing is easy and effective
Breathing is much more than expansion and contraction of lungs. My attempt here is to remark on my observations about breathing especially from the viewpoint of improving human condition by altering the way we breath.
Why breathing? Because it is easy; it is ever-present. It is a bridge between conscious and subconscious. The way you think, you become and the way you breathe, is the way you think. Thinking does affect breathing and by changing the way you breathe you can change the way you think. Without breathing very deeply, it is not possible to have profundity. Your brain gets well oxygenated only when you breathe deeply.
There are many breathing techniques available and anyone of them can be used as per the convenience. The basic principle remains same and can be understood very easily. The movement of mind is nothing but thoughts arising and subsiding. Breathing is very much associated with the thoughts arising and subsiding. If you can suspend breathing you can suspend thoughts as well. Similarly, if you make your breath become slower your thoughts become lesser and you get relaxed. If you go even deeper, the life force energy, Chi/Prana, is what moves your lungs. It is behind all the movements but the movement of the lungs can be controlled by practice; therefore by controlling the movement of lungs you control the movement of life force and when you become adept in doing that you may direct the life force to any organ of the body as per the requirement, thereby, being capable of healing yourself and being immune to diseases. If you read something or watch something intriguing; you have to pay attention and without holding your breath you cannot pay attention; therefore, whether you are aware of it or not, every time you pay attention, you hold breath. If you want to test its veracity, just try to practice deep breathing for a few days; it will not be long before you will start easily comprehending very long sentences. Your attention span is very obviously associated with your breathing. Apart from improving your attention span, the deep breathing practice is bound to increase your retention because your brain gets more and more oxygenated. Most of us are not very motivated to improve brain functioning or attention span or physique but almost all of us by one way or another keep on trying this or that to feel better.
From weeds to meditation, socializing to seclusion, everything we do is guided by our feelings. Breathing in a few distinct patterns lead to instant betterment of feelings because they simulate the breathing patterns which are the natural outcome of good feelings! It is said that after 6 years of penance, Buddha the Gautama resorted to ‘Anapana sati’, the constant attention on breathing; and he got enlightenment. We can attain betterment of feelings if not the enlightenment by being aware of breathing. Categorically, paying attention on inhalation and exhalation is slightly different from the techniques in which you try to alter the way you breath ; because in first you just observe the way you breath ( though that also alters the breathing) and in the second you try to change the way you breathe.
ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING
Alternate Nostril breathing is a most profound way to obtain the maximum advantages from conscious breathing. It is easy to do and it has innumerable advantages.
Without having a enough lung power, it is impossible to think clearly or to think enough long. To be able to read something which calls for more than average attention span, you need to have good lung power. Breathing techniques help you improve your attention span and indirectly help you improve your academic abilities and life in general.
Alternate nostril breathing is not easy to do until you have clear nostrils, free of any type of choking materials. If you practice it on a regular basis, choking materials if any are removed. ANB (Alternate Nostril Breathing) is easiest way to get a balance by using both hemispheres of your brain. When you use your left nostril for inhalation/exhalation, you trigger the neurons of the right hemisphere of brain and vice versa. Optimum emotional health, optimum brain functioning becomes possible by way of ANB as it optimizes the synchronization between two hemispheres.
Even if you breathe very deeply while practicing some of the techniques, the quota of the oxygenation is not met because average amount of air taken in dips significantly even compared to the normal breathing. The advantage however is that you reinforce more and more of your lung power, therefore, as you start taking in more oxygen per breath, your breathing in general becomes more vital.
In Yogic tradition, it has been suggested that there are some 72000 subtle pathways called Nadis. Out of these 72000 Nadis some 72 are considered to be of greater importance for well-being and meditation. Out of these 72 pathways there are 3 pathways called Ida, Pingala and Sushumna, which are of highest importance.
These Nadis are not gross pathways but subtle pathways and subtle life force energy (chi/qi/prana) flows through them. Yoga suggests that all illnesses are borne out of blockage of energy in some regions because of the accumulation of wastes in these subtle pathways. If these pathways are cleansed, not only will optimum health be attained but also will it lead towards the ultimate state of Samadhi.
Alternate Nostril Breathing aims at cleansing the entire Nadi system of the body and if it is practiced for enough long in a proper way, removes all the blockages in the nadi system.
The Yogi can hear divine melodies in his body if he closes his ears when his Naadis get cleansed.
The left nostril used for inhalation/exhalation uses Ida pathway.
The right nostril used for inhalation/exhalation uses Pingala pathway.
When both of these are equally used ( very rarely in average individuals and almost always in Yogis) the middle path Sushumna gets activated.
It is through the Sushumna that the subtle life force energy could rise up and reach to the crown chakra. Then Samadhi is attained.
The co-ordination between the two hemispheres of brain improves significantly with in very first week of the practice of this technique.
You could feel a sense of ‘balance’ coming up in your thinking because of this practice.
I have been practicing it quite regularly since last 6-7 months but in general I have been practicing all the breathing techniques for more than a decade now.
It will be especially useful for those who suffer from allergies. I had some problem with bronchitis earlier but I got complete rid of it. If you continue to practice ANB say for 15-30 minutes everyday, you will be able to get rid of all the allergies without any medications.
It is easy to practice and could be practiced at home. The alternate nostril breathing is easier compared to many breathing techniques because you need not practice it with empty stomach. As you already know, ideal time for practicing it could be immediately after getting up ( as it will make your mood cheered up for the day!) or just before going to bed ( as it will improve the quality of sleep as well as quality of dreams!). Any time is perfect to practice this techniques.
There are no prerequisites as such but just because it is recommended that you breath as deep as possible; if you have practiced deep breathing earlier: it will be an advantage. Even if you haven’t you will gradually practice this technique and find that your breathing will become deeper.
I recommend that you practice it at least 30 minutes without a pause. It is so because: In my opinion if you could feel, a drastic change, in your feelings and thinking, after practicing it for a few first days; you are more likely to persist with it, until it becomes the part of your life.
If you practice it for half an hour, with fully deep breathing, you will find a very obvious change in your feelings.
Steps are as follows:
1. Sit with a chair or on floor or on bed, wherever you could sit without much disturbances, with a straight spine.
2. Use either your left hand or your right hand to alternatively close your nostrils.
3. Use your fingers or thumb to close your right nostril and inhale using your left nostril as deeply as possible.
4. Now close your left nostril with the help of your thumb or fingers and exhale fully out using your right nostril.
5. Now inhale using your right nostril ( remember to inhale using the nostril from which you have exhaled ).
6. Now exhale using your left nostril and keep your right nostril closed as you did earlier.
7. Keep on repeating this cycle.
8. You may also hold your breath between inhalation/exhalation but it is not recommended for beginners.
There are a few very interesting and useful observations related to ANB technique. These come under the ‘Science of Swara’.
If you observe your breathing and check the activity of your nostrils; you will find that you use one of the nostrils more than the other at any given time. If you place your palm near your nostrils and exhale, you will find it to be true. If you have difficulty in finding it out, just close one of the nostrils and then exhale/inhale using the other one, then, do the same with other nostril: you will come to know that one of the nostrils will be more active than the other at any given time. You should find that this dominance keeps changing, i. e. if your left nostril is more active in morning, then, by evening or in noon your right nostril should become more activated. If it is not so, there could be only two cases possible:
1. You are an exceptional individual, a very rare one indeed, using both of your nostrils all the time, a very balanced mind you have and you might be a genius as well.
2. You have some acute illness. Either you are using more of your left or your right nostril more than the other. Your life is unbalanced and your thinking is also not balanced.
If at any given time, your left nostril is more activated, it signifies the calmness, peace and slow activity. Similarly right nostril activated signifies warmth, aggression and quick activity.
You would have noticed sudden change in your moods, it accompanies the change in the dominant nostril. Generally, left nostril more activated will accompany a pleasant mood and as soon as your right nostril gets more activated, you will find that your mood has undergone a sudden change and that too for worse. You will find irritation creeping in for no significant reason.
There are ways to change your dominant swara or dominant nostril.
Naturally, this pattern of nostril activity should keep on changing in every 90 minutes in a healthy human being. Most of us are far away from being ‘healthy’ so it does not. Therefore this forced activity of alternate nostril breathing attempts to restore some balance.
To take advantage of deep breathing, in any of the practices you have been doing ( For ex: alternate nostril breathing!), you can utilize ‘Step Breathing’. It is a simple technique to inhale and exhale using maximum capacity of your lungs. If you are not adept in inhaling/exhaling in ‘one go’, just do it and you will be able to fully use your lungs. Inhale slowly and then pause and then inhale again and then pause and inhale again…the number of steps taken for complete inhalation depends on your discretion. Similarly, exhale slowly and pause and again exhale and pause and again exhale until you have emptied your belly.
This practice, done in tandem with the walks proves to be doubly effective for inculcating the deep breathing practices because while walking you could easily practice deep breathing. Walking supports your breathing because of improved circulation and muscular movement except in case of acute bronchitis or asthma!
I will post for ‘Deep Breathing Done During Walking’….which is immensely powerful practice in my experience.
Deep breathing is a very valuable practice. There are some obvious advantages of deep breathing when it is practiced while you take walks, especially for beginners, as compared to when it is practiced in a posture of Siddhasana( enlightened position) or Padmasana lotus posture) or Sukhasana( easy posture) , which are postures where you sit in a specific manner to stimulate some specific glands and sustain alertness during the practice. If you have been taking walks for some time now, you might have already learned to walk with a straight spinal column, which is advantageous for breathing practices as well as in general.
If you practice deep breathing or do any other breathing practice while you walk, it becomes very effective, if you could manage to walk at a place where external noises do not disturb you much. Many of us find it difficult to breathe very deeply when they have just started to practice it, especially if they do it while sitting without having warmed their body up. After a game of badminton, for example, it becomes very easy for me to practice alternate nostril breathing because there is no choking in the nasal pathways. More than that during walking, your muscles get extra support from the ground and that helps them in exerting enough force for proper expansion and contraction of lungs. In many ways it is very good to improve your deep breathing, by practicing it with walking as the improved circulation of blood during walks accompanied with deep breathing results in even more oxygenated blood, in turn, allowing your brain to get better quality of supply. It is like getting advantage of both walking and deep breathing in a single activity. Usually we all breathe more deeply than usual if we walk fast but this practice focuses mainly on deep breathing therefore it enhances the lung power and all related functions in your organism.
Deep Breathing While Walking:
1. For estimating your normal capacity, walk with the normal speed, inhale deeply and try to count the number of steps in which you inhale fully, i.e. your lungs are filled fully with air.
2. If it is too quick inhalation, to support the practice, you might like to slow down the speed with which you walk, so that, there comes out to be a count like at least 4 steps or 5 steps in which you inhale fully.
[This writer inhales fully in about 18 steps by managing the synchronization between inhalation in such a way that it completes only in 18 steps neither less nor more]
3. If you have come to a proper count, like 4-6 steps required for complete inhalation –then by keeping the speed same, try to count it for exhalation…make it a forced exhalation toward the end i. e. try to empty your belly fully . Usually this count comes out to be more than the count required for inhalation.
4. Once you have determined these counts…try to synchronize the breathing using these counts and do not change the speed with which you walk in between.
5. If you continue to practice, your lung capacity will increase significantly within a week or two, thereafter you need to re-adjust the count and speed as per your convenience and capacity.
6. The practice of alternate nostril breathing can also be incorporated in this very valuable practice. You have to just keep in mind that you need to breathe from left nostril and your right nostril should be closed and then exhale using right nostril while left nostril is closed and then inhale using the same (right) nostril keeping left one closed and then exhale using the left nostril and carry on with this, while maintaining the count of the steps required for inhalation and exhalation.
7. If you find it difficult to practice alternate nostril breathing along with the counts then please try to do it without counts in the beginning, with walking.
8. For all beginners, the practices, done while walking are more effective in adapting their body to breathe deeply and effectively. Later on, as they become adept, in order to elevate these very practices to a meditative level, it is recommended that they are done while sitting.