What is Breathing
Simply stated, breathing is a process which helps get oxygen in the body and get rid of carbon dioxide which builds up inside. Oxygen is required for the entire body to function. From a Yoga point of view, it is Prana. It is the life force within you. Depending on which part of the body it helps to function, it is given different names. The part which makes you breathe and keep you alive is called Prana. It is also the way we understand if we are alive or dead. There is no breathing when we are dead.
Therefore, your breathing is your life force. It is the most important function of the body. You can live without food for a long time. There are instances of people living even without water for a long time. However, you cannot live without breathing. Even if you train yourself to hold your breath, a few minutes is the maximum you can live without breathing.
Breathing and Long Life
The length of time of you will stay is called ‘ayu’ or age. Now this age is not a chronological age. It is not measured by number of years. It is measured by the total number of breaths you take. The more irregular or faster your breathing, the lesser you live. That is why Yogis can live for very long. Their breathing is much slower and more subtle than anyone else. If you compare different animals, you will notice this phenomenon. Rabbits breathe very fast and their lifespan is small. Dogs also breathe fast. Elephants breathe much slower. Turtles breathe the slowest, so they can live for a hundred years. Humans fall somewhere in between.
Three aspects of Breathing
There are three key aspects of breathing which are important for breathing. These are all automatic with children. A small child breathes in the most perfect and natural way. Once we start growing older, we forget to breathe. The breathing patterns start getting distorted after puberty. These get adversely impacted with stress and lack of awareness of our own breathing. There are three important aspects of breathing.
A. Using all The Breathing Muscles
There are three important muscles in the body which are involved in breathing. If we become aware of these and optimize their utilization, the lungs automatically function well. These are:
- The diaphragm. This is most visible when we breathe when our stomach moves up and down. See how a baby breathes when it is sleeping and we will realize how our diaphragm should function.
- The intercostal muscles. These are the muscles around the rib cage and chest. We should learn to breathe by keeping the diaphragm steady and without movement. We then only use the rib cage to breathe by expanding it sideways (and not upwards, like we normally do).
- The clavicular muscles. These are the very small muscles which are just below the clavicular bone below the neck. These come into the picture when we need to breathe hard and fast. If these are well trained, breathing becomes easier.
When we train ourselves regularly, all three of these start functioning in conjunction and as required. It becomes a sub-conscious process.
B. Equalize Your Breathing
The second important aspect is to breathe equally. This means, our inhalation and exhalation should be of the same duration. If you inhale in three seconds, you should also exhale in three seconds. None of us normally breathe like this. We always exhale faster. Equalize your breathing for better health.
C. Lower Number of Breaths
The third most important aspect is to have a lower number of breaths per minute. We normally breathe between twelve to sixteen breaths a minute. The lower the number of breaths per minute, greater is your lifespan.
There are many techniques available to achieve all of this. Hatha Yoga has three very specific techniques available to achieve all three of the above aspects, viz; a) Using all breathing muscles b) Equalizing your breathing and c) Lowering the number of breaths per minute.