“The breathing process
creates images in the mind.
When breath becomes calm,
mind also becomes calm.”--
Inhale, exhale ... the breath, how often do we think of it, ... consciously? Yet breathing is an activity that goes on as does our heartbeat. From the moment of our initial birth cry, when we leave the womb to the very instantaneous split second of our death, the breath is with us. Flowing, stretching, gasping, throbbing through our existence, a continuous connected string that links every moment to the one before and the one after -- for the purposes of our life: eternal.
“I have a friend
At the end
Of the world.
His name is a breath” (Stevie Smith, English Poet)
Each day, we breathe about 23,040 times and move around 438 cubic feet of air. It takes us about five seconds to breathe -- two seconds to inhale and three seconds to exhale
At the same time it is an outward indicator and an interior regulator of our life. As its beginning is involuntary so its suspension can only be temporary--a minute or two held in or out. And when it stops, the end, our end, is complete and utter. The oxygen still exists but the breath we once owned is gone.
The process, to breathe, to use the lungs to saturate the blood with oxygen and rid it of carbon dioxide, is so precisely beautiful, rational and direct, that to
neglect or take it for granted would be the worst kind of foolishness. To regard it as an involuntary action, though to a great extent it is, would be similar to regarding the sun as merely an instrument for allowing us to go about our daily business without stumbling over things. Both are much, much more. And the breath can be regulated, invigorated, sharpened, paced, deepened and directed; all for our own purposes. This is about that process that gives us the power and the knowledge to regulate our lives in a way we can only wish for with our conscious mind. Pranayama grants us the ability to go beyond the simple and perfect inhale and exhale.
A tool, a measuring stick
With yoga, we can use the breath to measure our physical and mental well being and consequently we can use it to alter and elevate our consciousness. It can eliminate nervousness, introduce relaxation, enhance and expand creativity and promote healing in the body mind and soul. And this is only the beginning.
To know & to use
With a steady awareness and control of the breath, we can turn our body into a vehicle for elevation, ecstasy and health.
Most assuredly, as the master says, "There is something that breathes in you and something that controls that breath as a gift of life and that's all you need . You don't need other gimmicks!" Yogi Bhajan
In the context of yoga, Kundalini Yoga especially, the breath does much more than merely supply the body with adequate amounts of oxygen--as critical as that task is. (Think for a moment about the moment in evolutionary history when that amazing process finally came about as a function!)
There are other things as well! For example:
*In case of a fever, Sitali Pranayam will serve to cool you down.
*Sleep problems--Insomnia? Breathe through the left nostril to relax.
*Drowsiness at work--Breathe through the right nostril to energize yourself.
*Digestive problems? --Vatskar Kriya and the special breath associated with it will heal them.
These are but a few of the applications that can be dealt with by applying the solutions of the science of Pranayama as contained within the overall structure of Kundalini Yoga.
Kundalini Yoga, in fact any school of yoga, will link the breath with each practice--pranayama is not a separate or independent form of yoga--rather it is integral to all forms!
“With each asana or position, with each meditation, mantra or mudra,
with every stretch or flex, you, the yogi, need to remember the breath.
Coordinate all your practices with the breath.
Walk throughout your day with the breath.
Breathe deeply before you speak.
Exhale completely to listen.
And then relax.
Remember the breath.”
It is said, in the yogic scriptures that we are born with a certain number of breaths with which to live our lives. However many trillion aspirations that might be, when those breaths are expended, we die. It is also said in these same scriptures that each and every one of the pranayama techniques as postulated in the teachings of Kundalini Yoga has a wonderful advantage. That is, no matter how many times we inhale and exhale while practicing ANY of the breathing exercises, it is only counted as ONE breath against our lifetime total of breaths that we were born with! Imagine, each and every pranyama exercise lengthens as well as strengthens our lives
This and subsequent blogs will be about the many uses of the breath and how Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan (who is quoted often) can alter and illuminate our health, expand self esteem and elevate our consciousness. These applications can be applied to alter our physical systems in a positive manner. These blogs will be a gathering together of some of the essential knowledge of yoga as it applies to the breath and:
1-will explain breath rhythms;
2-will chart exercises to enhance those rhythms and strengthen the breathing muscle groups;
3-will suggest specific kriyas or sets of exercises for expanding the lungs; and
4-will point to meditations that use the breath for higher consciousness and expanded awareness. (Though this true of the entire body of Yogi Bhajan’s teachings.) The purpose of this information is to enhance the student's life through the application of proven techniques.
“There is no God outside you. Neither was, nor is, nor shall be. It is all in you. The very breath of life is Divine.” Yogi Bhajan
The most natural breath is the relaxed breath--it is conscious yet it is easily done. It is long and deep. (There is a breath in Kundalini Yoga, Long Deep Breathing, which will be explained fully in an ensuing blog.) Normally, the unconscious breath is shallow and based in the upper chest. This however, leads to tension, stress and weak nerves. If the breath is shallow, it is incomplete. We do not absorb as much oxygen as we need and we do not rid our systems of enough carbon dioxide. (If you consider yourself environmentally conscious, remember that the trees and plants need that CO2!)
The result of a shallow breath is a weakened and even poisoned system--burdened with excessive CO2, starving for O2, which equals poor health. This does not just mean poor physical health but erratic mental health dominated by seemingly uncontrollable peaks and valleys and a barren spiritual life, shallow and unrewarding--close to nonexistent. In short, without a healthy body the mind and the spirit suffer. A study of athletes cited in the Indian Journal of Medicine in 1994 states that “The subjects who practiced pranayama could achieve higher work rates with reduced oxygen consumption.” In other words, they were able to make more efficient use of that oxygen.
More & Better
The 'average' person who does not practice Kundalini Yoga has a lung capacity of about 250 cc. According to Yogi Bhajan, it is not until that capacity is expanded to over 700 cc's (by using the tools supplied by yoga) that real and positive personality changes happen.
As you practice Kundalini Yoga you will note a change as your capacity goes beyond 500 cc--a more relaxed and positive feeling as you complete your yoga sessions. This is a sign that you are making better use of your breath capacity.
However that is only the beginning. As you read these words about the breath you will constantly be reminded to pay attention to the breathing process. How fortunate! For as you read you will breathe deeply, the deeper the breath, the more knowledge you will absorb as the result of absorbing more oxygen. It seems possible that you will benefit simply from reading the blog! So how much more can you gain from putting into practice some of the methods contained herein?
I would suggest that you find a practice in the early parts of these writings--one that is simple and perhaps applicable to a problem or situation you may find yourself in. Take that practice and do it all the while you are reading the blogs. Each night before you go to bed, or in the morning when you wake up, or during a lunch break (before you eat), but daily and correctly. See then if you haven't gained from as little as 3-11 minutes of Pranayama.
With that in mind, let us proceed!
"The only miracle in this world is you being alive; the only God in this world is your breath of life." Yogi Bhajan