Breathe Right for your Body, Mind and Spirit
What is the first thing a human does when he/she is born?
He/she takes the first breath.
What does a human do when he/she passes away?
He/she takes his/her last breath!
If a newly born is not breathing, it is a medical emergency.
When someone is struggling for his/her last breath, it is also a medical emergency.
What is one element freely available in nature, without which we cannot survive?
How can we utilize this free element free of cost to keep our health, body, and mind perfectly?
By Breathing right.
Breathing right is one big SECRET of good physical and mental health that almost everyone knows, but most don’t utilize it.
We all are aware that breathing is essential to our existence. Breathing is our life-line. We cannot survive without breathing.
When someone is traumatized in a road traffic accident, the first thing we examine is his breathing. We establish his breathing before we attend to his other problems. We clear his airway and provide mouth-to-mouth or some other kind of breathing before we do chest compressions.
If someone is under a coma and not in a condition to breathe herself, we have to provide artificial breathing with a machine known as a ventilator.
Breathing pattern changes in many disease conditions. Intensive care specialties modulate breathing using the ventilator to treat some conditions.
Even a slight temperature change can influence our breathing pattern. You must have noticed we take a sudden deep breath when you stand under a cold shower.
We also use our breath to overcome temperature changes. When it is chilly, we rub our hands and blow hot air to our fingers to warm them. On the other hand, when it is hot, we try to cool ourselves by blowing the neck, chest, and axilla!
Besides, there is a direct link between breathing and our emotions also. For example:
When we are angry, we breathe rapidly.
When we are anxious, we breathe fast.
When we are in distress, we breathe quickly.
When we are sad, we sigh,
When we cry, we sigh,
Sigh is a kind of deep exhalation or, in medical terminology, expiration.
When we are bored, we yawn!
Yawning is contagious! Please don’t condemn the yawners! Yawning is also a form of breathing exercise.
Now, there are a huge number of scientific studies showing how we can control our emotions through appropriate breathing exercises.
Breathing helps to oxygenate our body completely. In this process, breathing controls our blood circulation too. While breathing acts as an oxygen supplier, circulation acts as an oxygen transport system to our entire body. Each and every cell gets nourished through this wonderful mechanism. Hence, for a long and healthy life, breathing properly is essential.
Breathing improves our lung capacity. A better lung capacity increases our ability to perform physical activities such as exercise or work. Hence, breathing enhances our productivity.
Breathing also controls lymphatic flow or circulation. The lymphatic system is our body’s defense system, as well as a sewage system.
The lymphatic system produces the white blood cells required to fight external threats such as bacteria and viruses. As the body’s sewage system drains toxic material, dead cells, unnecessary proteins, and excess fluid present in the cells and the blood.
The lymphatic fluid passes through the lymph nodes present all over the body in bunches, where all the unwanted toxic material is neutralized, and essential materials are released back to blood circulation.
Two main vessels or trunks carry the filtered lymph fluid back to the main blood circulation. The right lymphatic duct drains the right upper portion of the body to the right subclavian vein. The thoracic duct, other trunk drains the rest of the body into the left subclavian vein.
Unlike the blood circulation system, the lymphatic system does not have a pump like a heart that can make it flow continuously. If the lymphatic flow is shut down for more than 24 hours, we will be dead because of trapped toxic materials, excess fluid, and blood proteins.
Our breathing and muscular movements control the lymphatic flow.
In 1979, it was Dr. Jack Shields, a prominent lymphologist, did pathbreaking research. His study showed that diaphragmatic breathing acts as a pump to help the lymphatic flow. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates our chest from the abdomen. Now the diaphragm is considered as a second heart.
Many other scientific studies have shown that deep diaphragmatic breathing activates other lymphatic components in the abdomen and pelvis and enhances the lymphatic flow. Hence, deep breathing is essential for a good body defense system and efficient drainage of waste products.
Deep breathing can enhance lymphatic flow many times. The lymphatic channels have multiple valves that can hamper their free flow. Deep breathing helps to overcome the resistance of these valves also.
Sinus Rhythm or Heart Rate Variability is a well-known phenomenon of the heart. When we breathe in or inhale, the heart rate rises. When we breathe out or exhale, the heart slows down. The sinus rhythm of the heart is linked to longevity. The sinus rhythm is inversely proportionate to stress. When we are stressed, the heart rate rises and falls faster with every breath. The sinus rhythm is smooth when we are calm and peaceful. Aging and any physical and mental diseases shorten life by affecting the sinus rhythm.
Research by Nobel laureate of Max Planck Institue of Cell Physiology Dr. Otto Warburg and American scientist Dr. Harry Goldblatt has shown that in-adequate oxygenation of cells may play a role in cancer formation. Hence, adequate oxygenation of the cells is critical to prevent cancers. Probably, it is for this reason; the athletes have less chance of getting cancers compared to the general population. Athletes practice regularly with sufficient exercise and muscular activity. Therefore, deep breathing and exercises help us to prevent cancers.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the whole world like a tsunami, one common advice on social media platforms by the clueless medical community is breathing exercises!
An ability to smell is one of the critical special senses. The smell can alert us to dangers like fire, gas leaks, or rotten food. The smell is linked to our emotions also. When we smell a beautiful flower or an aromatic scent, we develop a positive vibe. The smell is connected to our memory also. Unpleasant and bad smells warn us of possible danger.
To smell, we have to breathe first. No breathing, no smell.
Breathing rightly does not help the body alone. It helps our minds also. There are plenty of studies now supporting the significant positive effects of different yoga practices on anxiety and depression, neurophysiological, psychological, and psychiatric issues, improved self-regulation, positive mood, reduced stress, and anxiety.
Pranayama is an ancient Indian Yoga breathing exercise. The practice of Pranayama has an impact on many body’s physiological functions also. Now there is enough evidence suggesting its positive influence on the cardiorespiratory system. Slow-paced breathing reduces the heart rate and decreases systolic and diastolic blood pressure. On the other hand, fast Breathing results in a weak but consistent increase in heart rate.
Bastrika is one of the most common pranayamas practiced across the world. The Bhastrika pranayama practice with a low respiratory rate significantly reduces both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure, with a modest decrease in heart rate.
The changes in heart rate variability also support the fact that Pranayama’s practice improves respiratory function and cardiac sympathovagal balance, which are essential for psycho-physiological stress-related issues.
In a study done by Brain Institute, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), Natal, Brazil, the scientists have explored Bhastrika pranayama’s impact on emotion processing, anxiety, and affect. This study was with functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and clinical psychological studies. The clinical studies consisted of The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule scoring system (PANAS). And State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), is a psychological inventory.
All these studies have shown that the Bastrika pranayama significantly decreased states of anxiety and negative affect. Pranayama’s practice also modulated the activity of brain regions involved in emotional processing, particularly the amygdala, anterior cingulate, anterior insula, and prefrontal cortex. In their study, pranayama reduced anxiety levels of all subjects significantly.
Other scientists have made similar observations. In one study, six months of slow breathing training reduced anxiety states. In another study, only three months of the Anuloma-Viloma practice reduced anxiety levels. Anuloma-viloma is an alternating nostril breathing pranayama. Another important Pranayama. We will learn more about it sometime soon. Even a single session of Anuloma-Viloma can calm down anxious people. Six weeks of Sudarshan Kriya has produced similar results. Sudarshan Kriya is a wholesome breathing program designed by Art of Living founder Sri Ravishankar Guruji.
Researchers from the Southampton University of the U.K. have unraveled even more important phenomena. That is Pranayama can help even patients with anxiety disorder, not responding to the treatment. In medical terminology, we call it drug-resistant anxiety disorder.
All these claims are not hyperbole. They have a scientific basis. Two autonomic or involuntary nerve systems control our psychological states. One is sympathetic and the other parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve, a sympathetic nerve, mediates the psychobiological effects of Pranayama. The vagus nerve is the bridge between peripheral sensory organs and many areas of the brain.
The increased exhalation time of Pranayama activates the parasympathetic system in two ways. First, it increases parasympathetic activity. Second, it reduces the release of hormones associated with stress. The main culprit related to stress is the Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) hormone. The psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety are a result of this hormone. By reducing GABA secretion, it reduces the activity of the brain related to stress.
What is the take-home message of all the studies?
Breathing exercises have a positive impact on our emotion regulation process. Impaired emotion regulation causes depression and anxiety. Pranayams regulates our emotions by increasing our acceptance and present-moment awareness.
The earliest scriptures available on art and science of breathing Patanjali Yoga Sutras says in Chapter 2, Verse 52, “Pranayama removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom.” Conscious breathing helps in personal growth, awakening, and transformation also. Dr. Peter Litchfield, President of the Graduate School of Behavioral Health Services, has found the use of conscious breathing in more than fifty medical, therapeutic, personal, and professional developmental scenarios.
Breathing affects every organ, system, and function in the body. Every physiological, psychological, and emotional state has a corresponding breathing pattern. Right breathing can help you optimize your health, boost longevity, enhance your performance, reduce stress, and ultimately transform your life.
Ancient Hindu yogis, Buddhist monks, enlightened mystics, Olympian athletes, great warriors, and highly acclaimed scientists have practiced right breathing. The most crucial point here is learning the best-proven techniques that work.
The breathing interconnects all living creatures and non-living things on this planet. All living creatures, including human beings, breathe the same air. The same air also soaks all non-living things on this planet. To have a better relationship with all, we have to breathe correctly.
James Nestor, the author of breath, aptly says, “To breathe is to absorb ourselves in what surrounds us, to take in little bits of life, understand them, and give pieces of ourselves back out. Respiration is, at its core, reciprocation.”
Breathing is secular. Almost all major religion highlights the importance of breathing.
In Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Verse 29, it said,
“apane juhvati pranam
prane ’panam tathapare
pranan pranesu juhvati”
Lord Krishna explains that, “others who are devoted to pranayama or regulation of the breath offer the prana or outgoing breath to the apana or incoming Breath and the incoming Breath to the outgoing breath. In this way, they arrive at the stage of kumbhaka or complete restraint of the breath and this is considered to be yagna or offerings of worship.”
In Old Testament, Genesis 2.7 it said, “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.”
Dan Brule, the author of “Just Breathe” records, “Grace, poise, focus, clarity, energy, and calmness are needed in everyday-life situations. If you need to control yourself—your mind, body, emotions, posture, or behavior—then start by getting control of your breathing. When you change one, the other changes. Therefore, Conscious Breathing techniques have the potential to transform the quality of your life on every level and on a day-to-day basis.”
Breathing rhythm varies. Make it rhythmic.
Breathing is involuntary. Make it voluntary.
Breathing pattern varies. Streamline the process.
Breathing is a natural process. Please do it with a purpose.
Breathing is part of our homeostasis. Make it an efficient engine.
Breathing responds to emotions. Use it to control those emotions.
Breathing is independent of our minds. Control it with your mind.
Breathing varies with temperature. Fire up your body with breathing.
Breathing itself may be ailing. Use it effectively to cure many ailments.
Breathing deep removes toxic materials. Make it a perfect sewage system.
Breathing provides oxygen to our bodies. Enhance its oxygen producing capability.
Dr. Prahlada N.B.
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- Just Breathe by Dan Brule.
- Breathe by James Nestor.
- Power Unlimited by Anthony Robbins.
- Power Pranayama by Dr. Renu Mahtani, M.D
- Mind Your Breathing by Sundar Balasubramaniyan. PhD.