The breath is the basis of our being and without it, we cannot survive. It is one such unique process in the body which is controlled by the autonomic as well volitional centers of the brain. On the subtle plane, breath and states of consciousness are interconnected and on the physical level, it corresponds to our nervous system. Breathing is normally controlled by autonomic nervous system and brain centers (Medulla and Pons), when we are not controlling the breath. Breathing is one activity which we can control at our will – using the higher centers of the brain, otherwise, lower centers of the brain regulate our breathing when our mind is occupied somewhere else.
How Our Mental States Control Breathing
As we know, the rhythm of the breath is directly affected by our physical as well emotional states. Even this association of our breath and mental states reflects in our language and daily vocabulary, when we say – for example – one can “gasp” with shock or “sigh/choke” with sadness etc… If we are angry, our breathing becomes agitated and when we get scared, the breath can stop momentarily.
It becomes very evident that our breath is the easiest and the most effective tool to enter our inner environment. The fluctuations of our emotional states are difficult to control, but we can control the breath, and the conclusion is obvious. By learning to breathe smoothly, gently, and without irregularities, we can greatly reduce distracting thoughts as well as gain a heightened sense of concentration and focus. So, the first step – before any actual pranayama technique is undertaken – is that we tune into the rhythm of the breath and learn to regulate it.
Conscious And Unconscious Breathing
Unconscious control of the breath originates in the medulla oblongata region of the brain stem (a region – otherwise – known as the ‘primitive brain’) whilst conscious control of the breath comes from the more evolved areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex. When we breathe consciously, the cerebral cortex by-passes the respiratory center in the brain stem and it is said that impulses from this cortex affect adjoining areas of the brain – which are concerned with emotions. Conscious breathing, therefore, triggers those centers in the brain which are more evolved. Whatever the other implications are for conscious breathing, it is certain that it has a calming effect.
As Swami Rama says, “If you need control, then choose breath as the object upon which to meditate. Remember that the equal exchange of inhalation-exhalation always leads you to tranquility”.1
There is one simple Pranayama technique (breathing technique) known as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, which helps to tone the autonomic center and enhances the level of relaxation.
Perform this technique.
1. Sit in a comfortable position, either on the floor or on the chair. Keep the body relaxed and upright. And then for a few moments, focus your awareness on the breath and make it more relaxed and rhythmic by breathing with the count of 5 – mentally; and breathe out with the count of 7.
2. Now, place first two fingers of the right hand on the eyebrow center and close the right nostril with the thumb. Now, through the left nostril, inhale slowly and deeply with the count of 5 and then, close the left and exhale through the right nostril with the count of 7. At the end of exhalation, this time – inhale through the right nostril with the same count of 5 and exhale through the left with the count of 7. This is 1 round of the practice.
3. This way, continue the practice for 7–10 cycles/rounds.
This is an excellent practice to relax the nervous system and calm down the nerves in quick time. People who suffer from insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety disorder, stress, and migraine may find this practice highly beneficial.
Throughout this process of breathing, make sure there is no unnecessary stress or jerks in breathing in or out. Your breathing should be very relaxed, slow, rhythmic, and deep.
|↑1||O’Brien, Justin. Walking with a Himalayan Master: An American’s Odyssey. Yes International, 2007.|