Correct Breathing

What is meant by correct breathing?

Swami Satyananda: Most people breathe incorrectly, using only a small part of their lung capacity. The breathing is then generally shallow, depriving the body of oxygen and prana essential for good health. The first practices taught to pranayama students are preparatory techniques which introduce correct breathing habits. In addition, they help focus the awareness on the breathing process, which is otherwise normally ignored. Although it takes some time to learn, it is possible to control the actions of respiration. Once the breathing has been corrected, one feels much better. When one breathes in, the stomach should inflate; when one breathes out the stomach should contract. Abdominal contraction and abdominal inflation should be synchronized with the breathing process. This is seen in all animals. Observe a dog or cat or any other animal. The breath is both gross and subtle. The gross breath is perceptible and the subtle breath is imperceptible. When the breath becomes subtle it improves the quality of awareness. The ingoing and outgoing breath should be uniform. It should not be thick or thin, broken or in waves.

Why does yoga teach correct breathing?

Swami Satyananda: Before learning pranayama, yoga students must develop sensitivity to the respiratory process and retrain the muscles of the pulmonary cavity, enhancing their vital capacity and preparing them for pranayama. Rhythmic, deep and slow respiration stimulates and is stimulated by calm, content states of mind. Irregular breathing disrupts the rhythms of the brain and leads to physical, emotional and mental blocks. These, in turn, lead to inner conflict, an unbalanced personality, a disordered lifestyle and disease. Pranayama establishes regular breathing patterns, breaking this negative cycle and reversing the debilitating process. It does so by giving one control of the breath and re-establishing the natural, relaxed rhythms of the body and mind.

What are the physical advantages of breathing deeply and slowly?

Swami Satyananda: Deep breathing allows maximum intake for each respiration and slow breathing allows optimum exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Time is required to transfer oxygen from the lungs to the blood, and for carbon dioxide in the blood to be transferred into the lungs for expulsion into the air. If one breathes rapidly, then the optimum oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange is not reached in the lungs. If the respiration is slow then the optimum transfer can be achieved. This is why depth and speed of breathing are so important in relation to each other.

Why is the science of breathing so important for well being?

Swami Satyananda: Pranayama has a two-sided effect. It helps to keep the physical apparatus pure and in good order, and also to control, regulate and channel the mental-emotional being. Pranayama involves controlled, rhythmic and regular breathing. Prana is the gross manifestation in the physical body of the subtle, universal, cosmic force. It is this cosmic energy that gives life to all sentient beings. Pranayama is the technique of conservation and distribution of this life force. While inhaling, oxygen is taken in, and while exhaling carbon dioxide is discharged. Oxygenation of the system makes the body pure, light and active. Unless the science of breathing is properly understood and correctly practised, there is a likelihood of imbalance in breathing, which may result in various types of mental and emotional conflicts and impulsiveness. The world with its innumerable joys and sorrows makes a violent impact upon the individual, and one often fails to find a realistic way of adjusting to life. The effect of prana on the human being and the correlation between the mind and the body are fully realized in yoga.

How does the way of breathing influence the length of life?

Swami Satyananda: In addition to influencing the quality of life, the length or quantity of life is also dictated by the rhythm of the respiration. The ancient yogis and rishis studied nature in great detail. They noticed that animals with a slow breath rate such as pythons, elephants and tortoises have long lifespans, whereas those with a fast breathing rate such as birds, dogs and rabbits live for only a few years. From this observation they realized the importance of slow breathing for increasing the human lifespan. Those who breathe in short, quick gasps are likely to have a shorter lifespan than those who breathe slowly and deeply. On the physical level, this is because the respiration is directly related to the heart. A slow breathing rate keeps the heart stronger and better nourished, and contributes to a longer life. Deep breathing also increases the absorption of energy by pranamaya kosha, enhancing dynamism, vitality and general well being

Printed in Conversations on the Science of Yoga – Hatha Yoga Book 7, Hatha Yoga and Health