The Science of Yogic Breathing
Prana is the Energy of the Universe—tap into it with the Science of Pranayam
11-Minute Meds uses pranayam in most meditations, and here’s some information on to what it is and why its vital.
In the West, most people do not breathe correctly, especially when you are stressed. Breath patterns that create shallow, erratic, upper-chest breathing are common and impact how we think, feel, and act. Shallow upper chest breathing is the enemy of well being. Stress and excessive worrying draws us away from deep breathing leaving us feeling depleted without knowing why.
Breathing happens naturally without having to think about it, and yet conscious breathing is key to health, healing, and transformation. Breathing is one of the functions handled by the autonomic nerve system and most of the time breathing happens on “auto pilot,” without are conscious intervening. The conscious manipulation of breath is the beginning of a healthy nervous and endocrine (glandular) system. Through conscious breathing (breath awareness), we begin to heal the nervous system and the hormonal system.
Yogis, Ancient Greeks, and virtually all the Wisdom Traditions understood that breath is more than a combination of oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and a host of other elements; air has a subtle quality connected to the life force energy–prana. The “Science of Breath” is known in yogic science as pranayam, the conscious control of the inhalation, suspension, and exhalation through mental focus.
By controlling the movement of breath along with the power of the navel using specific yogic techniques, one controls the flow of prana, the life force energy. Apana, prana’s counterpart, is the eliminating force in nature. Using controlled breathing patterns for medicinal purposes is also referred to as pranic healing (PH).
The natural home of prana is at the heart center, and by mastering the flow of prana you are effectively kindling the subtle power of the heart. The subtle aspect of prana (or chi in the Chinese tradition) is the vital force that energizes the mind, body, and consciousness. The quantity, quality, and movement of the breath creates the foundation for not only health and healing, but also the basis for living a more creative life.
Prana is not the same as the breath, yogic science teaches that prana “rides of the wave of the breath” and infuses all living things. Prana is the life force energy. As long as there is breath left within you, you can begin to learn and master the basics of pranayam, or pranic healing.
A simplistic example of prana’s counterpart, apana is the exhalation, removing the spent energy from the body-mind, whereas prana is drawing in the life force energy through the inhalation. Prana and apana are forces within the body-mind that are always in dynamic partnership.
When you learn to control the breath by breathing consciously, you are also learning to master the mind. Breath and mental control are the two essential components of increasing heart coherence.
Proper breathing and breath control is the number one factor in improving heart coherence. It is the first line of defense against stress.
The second factor in improving heart coherence is control of your mental focus and patterns through mindfulness practices such as meditation. Breath and meditation combined is a powerful combination to healing by optimizing heart coherence.
Controlling the breath helps to master the mind, together they form the path to heart coherence. Imagine being on a horse holding one of the reins in each hand. If you want the horse to turn right you pull on the right rein. The autonomic nervous system can be thought of the horse, unless regulated by exerting control on the reigns it will go in the direction based on its reactions to the environment.
If you think of the left rein as controlling the left nostril and the right rein the right nostril you may get a sense of the power of consciously controlling your breath. Focusing on the left nostril and exhalation engages the parasympathetic system; conversely, controlling the right nostril and inhalation manipulates the sympathetic system. From this basic starting point, there is a wide range of combinations that yield different psycho-physiological (mind-body) results.
Several basic breathing techniques are described here for your reference. Once you select one of the 11-Minute Meds™ come back to this section to learn more about specific effects. Each of the 11-Minute Meds™ specifics a particular breathing technique—pranayam.