Breathing correctly: The first step in Pranayama.


Our entire lives depend upon our breathing. Since times immemorial, ancient yogis have told us: "Those who do not breathe fully only half live. And those who breathe correctly obtain control over their entire being. Then what is there in this world that remains impossible for them?"

Even though breathing is an automatic process, often the respiratory muscles lose their optimum condition due to factors like rapid breathing, whose causes could range from tension, stress, anxiety, fear or mere laziness. A person who breathes slowly is naturally relaxed, serene and content. This creates a virtuous cycle, as the continual state of contentment improves health and happiness, which in turn produce relaxation and serenity again.

Often when people breathe fast they inhale and exhale insufficient quantities of air. Due to this, the lungs can’t function optimally and germs proliferate in the lower lungs. Slow breathing tends to be far more profound, filling up the lungs and helping to get rid of germs and stale air. Thus destroying the medium in which they multiply. Deep breathing also allows for the diaphragm to massage the organs in the abdominal cavity. This massage rejuvenates the organs and gets rid of stagnant blood which is replaced by pure oxygenated blood. This helps in warding off health problems in the abdominal area. We know how important it is to have well oxygenated blood flowing through our systems so that all cells, tissues, organs and nerves remain in optimum condition.  These are only a few examples of the problems incorrect breathing can cause, and yet we are never taught how to breathe. We take it for granted, that being an automatic process, it’ll take care of itself. The truth is it would, if there was no interference from our part. But our thoughts and emotions, our behaviour, our lifestyle, don’t allow for this. Inadvertently, every time we are irritated, frustrated, angry etc. we are sending debilitating impulses to our entire body by upsetting the natural rhythm between the respiratory and the cardiac systems, which should work in absolute harmony.

To make matters worse we don’t make much time for the outdoors where fresh air is readily available to replenish the lungs, we shower with hot water which promotes superficial breathing, we lead a sedentary lifestyle and eat heavy meals, at odd hours which tax the digestive and respiratory systems further. 

A reasonably relaxed person inhales and exhales approximately half a litre of air in each respiratory cycle. When the chest and abdomen are expanded to their maximum capacity, a healthy adult can inhale up to two litres more air and can exhale up to one litre and a half more than they would with a constricted chest and abdomen. Since the lungs can’t really exhale all the air they inhale, there always remains a residual amount at the bottom, which must be kept moving with deep breathing. 

The first step in pranayama is to learn Yogic Breathing from a competent teacher. This type of breathing combines thoracic, abdominal and clavicular breathing in a soft wave of inhalation and exhalation which allows maximum air to be ingested and expelled. Only once one has spent a certain amount of time mastering yogic breathing, should they move into practicing pranayama,