Breath is Life: The Science of breathing

Author: Indu Sandhu, Yoga and Ayurveda Practitioner

Breath is life. We can live for days without food and water, but on depriving us of breath we die in minutes. Thus, proper breathing is an imperative for vibrant health. In Ayurveda and Yoga there are two main functions of proper breathing: to oxygenate the blood and through it, the brain; to control prana or vital energy, leading to the control of the mind. This is done through Pranayam, the science of breath control as it helps people of all doshas, thereby improving both their physical and mental health.

There are three types of breathing: clavicular (shallow), intercostal (middle) and abdominal breathing (deep). A full yogic breath combines all three, starting with a deep breath and thereafter continuing the inhalation through the intercostal and clavicular regions.

Breathing correctly involves breathing through the nose while keeping the mouth closed, and involves a full inhalation and exhalation, thereby bringing optimizing the lung capacity. When exhaling, the abdomen contracts and the diaphragm moves up, massaging the heart; on inhaling, the abdomen expands and the diaphragm moves down, massaging the abdominal organs.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not inhalation but exhalation that is of vital importance – the more the stale air exhaled, the more the fresh air is thereafter inhaled. In Yogic breathing the emphasis is laid on prolonged retention and exhalation.

In nasal inhalation the air is warmed and filtered, maximizing the amount of prana taken in, for at the back of the nose lie the olfactory organs, through which the prana passes to reach the central nervous system and the brain.

The state of mind is reflected by the way one breathes: when angry or scared the breathing is shallow, rapid and irregular; in a state of relaxation or deep thought the breathing slows down. This leads one to surmise that by controlling the breath, one can learn to control one’s state of mind!