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Breath and Life - Pt. III
By Sudhanva V. Char
There are several breathing techniques that enhance the effectiveness of the respiratory system and the oxygen-carbon dioxide gas exchange. The metabolic activity of the cells needs oxygen. Energy production needs oxygen. The respiratory apparatus is also the cleansing gadget collecting and getting rid of CO2, a by-product of metabolism. In the last part of this article (Breath and Life – 2) two of such techniques were mentioned viz.: bhastrika or bellows and nadishodana pranayama or single-nostril breathing both of which improve respiratory efficiency.
Bhastrika is an effective technique to force out the turbulence in the mind. It helps materialize the state of mind Patanjali envisaged in his sutra: “ChittahVritti Nirodah.” In the days bhastrika was first learned about, it is possible it was used mainly to focus the mind on god and worship. But now it is exploitable for ridding oneself of numerous mental sickness or weakness. Bhastrika jogs the cardiovascular system too and is known to decrease the residual lung volume of gas. Such volume increases when gas is trapped in alveoli because of say, emphysema and similar disease.
The litmus test that bhastrika has been done right is the dawning of complete silence or lack of mental transactions in the mind of the bhastrika doer. After it is done the quietness of the mind is so uplifting one has to experience it to believe it. It is also energizing. It is a fountainhead of positive feelings. It is the best antidote to depression and similar emotional problems These developments are explained by the fact that the central nervous system is an integral component of the respiratory system. Students of anatomy know that it is the neurons in the medulla oblongata, located in the lower portion of the brainstem that controls the autonomic function of spontaneous breathing. The spinal cord is part of the neural pathway relaying signals from the brain. The medulla is an information junction influenced in turn by the efficacy of respiration.
Nadishodana Pranayama, as noted earlier, sharpens the acuity of sense organs. The nerves seem to do a better job of smelling, hearing, sight, balancing, skin sensitivity, and related functions. This technique of pranayama improves a person’s reflexes, restores mental equanimity, and betters coordination and recall. This is also recommended for several cardiac problems, such as high or low blood pressure, regularizing monthly menstrual cycles, breaking off nervousness and free-floating anxiety, migraine headaches, menopausal hot flashes and mood changes.
Specialist yoga teachers recommend extended inhalations and not so long exhalations as a treatment for low blood pressure and extended exhalations and not so long inhalations for high blood pressure.
Ujjayi Pranayama is an other important breathing technique. This is done both in shavasana or the corpse or the sitting postures. The doer of this breathing exercise would imitate the conquering hero with an inflated chest that would enable a large inspiration. While exhaling something like a ‘zhummmmm” sound is produced in the gullet. The rhythmic, slow and resonant puraka or inhalation and a similar long and slow rechaka or exhalation soothes the nerves and calms the mind. The kumbhaka or holding of the breath inside is not too long.
Beginner trainees in yoga would find Ujjayi Pranayama useful in establishing quickly a foothold on their body. They can continue their endeavors and convert this into a stronghold, turning the body into an obedient servant instead of the person abiding by the, generally tamasic body.
Viloma Pranayama calls for inhaling in installments instead of taking a long Puraka or inhalation. Puraka is broken down into identical short gulps of air through the nostrils with pauses between them. After you cannot inhale any more, you hold the breath for about 12 to 15 seconds and exhale continuously without an interruption. This technique may be practiced either in a lying down or sitting posture. In a variation of this technique you can have a long inspiration, and short interrupted exhalations.
Both techniques of Viloma Pranayama would bestow balance to one’s breathing. Viloma Pranayama and its variation can be done either lying down or sitting up in a suitable sitting asana. Viloma Pranayama with interrupted inspiration is recommended as a treatment for low blood pressure. By the same token, the one with interrupted exhalation could be a treatment for high blood pressure.
There are other breathing techniques and when the occasion demands them we will introduce them. At this time we may address ourselves to breathing vis-à-vis asanas.
What should be learnt first? Aasanas or Pranayama? The Asthanga sequence is Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. There are no studies or empirical data to state that Asana should be learnt and then Pranayama. More often than not both are learnt almost simultaneously. In the Hindu tradition, where the practice of Yagnopaveetam or the holy thread is worn around the age of 7 or 11 years, the brahmachari is taught pranayama as part of the sandhyavandam (veneration of the Lord three times a day) procedure. He is also coached how to intone mentally the Gayatri or more accurately the pranayama mantra. Of course, some of the procedures such as the chanting of the pranayama mantra and earlier, the offering of arghya or consecrated water to the gods, are in kukkutasana or the hen posture. And thus the youngster is initiated into both asana and pranayama at the same time.
The youngster is also taught that while in kukkutasana he should do antarkumbhaka or inner holding of breath and chant three times the entire Pranayama mantra (prefatory + Gayatri + ending words) as follows:
Om bhuh, om bhuvah, om suvah, om mahah, om janah, om tapah, om satyam |
Om tatsaviturvarenyam, bhargo devasya dhimahi, dhiyoyonah prachodayat |
Om aapojyoti raso amritam brahma bhurbhuvasvarom ||
Intoning this entire Gayatri three times (without a hustle, but at a regular cadence and pace like the Brahmins do) demands holding the breath for at least a minute. If that does not initiate the young lad into yoga and bless him with a competent cardiovascular structure at such a tender age, nothing else possibly could!
There is another central theme to be keynoted here: The holistic nature human personality comprising of the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions is put on full view of the observer when we do the sandyavandanam. First, physically you are in kukkutasana, and second, mentally you are preoccupied with the chanting of Gayatri, a mantra that provides a glimpse of God as the personification of both the spectacular macrocosmic universe and the breathtaking microcosmic or the nano-world of cells, and everything in between, and third, spiritually you are imploring God to fire up your conscious mind with His effulgence. Is it therefore ever a surprise that the face of anyone that practices sandhya regularly radiates tejas or the luminous intelligence. This is the moment in time when we communicate with the universal innate intelligence. And in the process something of that Sovereign power rubs off on us when the prescribed procedures are stuck to.
The importance of right breathing and Pranayama was not lost on our epic idols: Rama and Krishna. Valmiki writes how Rama was very habitual in this respect: “Rama sandya mupaasata…” It was nityakarma, or daily chores that is done with detachment because it is an apachara or impious deed not to do it. Vyasa Maharishi divulged in the Mahabharata how during the Kurukshetra war, the armies paused to enable the pious to perform Sandhya and link up with innate intelligence and draw sustenance through breathing. Anyone that did not perform sandhya was regarded as unqualified to undertake any task. May be because the person did not have the benefit of, inter alia, a daily booster dose of adequate oxygen?
Like we explained earlier, breathing and yoga come under the realm of future medicine. They encourage robust health and self healing through not only avoidance of incorrect breathing practices and incorrect styles of living, but also through practicing wholesome breathing and yogic styles of living.
Dr. S. V. Char is a Professor, with a PhD in Economics. He is also a certified yoga instructor from the K.D. Yoga Institute, Bombay which is renowned for Yoga Intensives and therapeutics for over 100 years. Dr Char has learn meditation techniques from his father Prof. G. Veeraraghava Char. He has practiced yoga for several decades and taught at several institutions including Emory and Stanford, Spellman College and Clark University, several High Schools and Hindu Temples, and medical institutions. Hundreds of students have learnt to prevent/cure serious illnesses such as Cardiac, Diabetic, and libido-related problems through Yogic methods taught by Dr Char. Amongst his students, about ten percent are physicians, surgeons, chiropractors, nurses and health-care professionals.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the editor/publisher.
By Dr. Deepak Chopra, MD
(Part I of a Three part series. Courtesy Dr Deepak Chopra courtesy Intentblog)
It is a clear October day in downtown Boston (or New York, or Chicago), and the lunch crowd is on its way back to work. Some people are dressed in hats, scarves, and gloves, anticipating winter. Others, wearing short sleeved shirts, seem to think it is still summer. Running bare-chested in shorts, a jogger jumps the green light at the curb, heading for the park.
He stands out in vivid contrast to an older woman waiting for her bus bundled in a full-length coat with a fur collar. At a casual glance, you would think these people lived in different climates. Actually, they are expressing the differences nature has created inside themselves.
Despite the fact that many people had a typical lunch of sandwich, French fries, and coffee, the food is sitting heavily in some stomachs, tossing nervously in others, and passing unnoticed in most of the rest. In some bodies, hearts are beating faster because the sidewalk feels too crowded; others are pouring out excess gastric acid or experiencing a rise in blood pressure. It takes all types to make a world – but has medicine really noticed what types there are?
In conventional medicine we pay much more attention to differences among diseases than among people. If a patient complains of a twinge of arthritis in his hands, a physician realizes that this common complaint may be linked to over a hundred diseases, all of which lead to sore, stiff, inflamed, painful joints. It is known that some people inherit the tendency to become arthritic, but a bewildering number of things also seem to contribute – hormonal changes, physical and mental stress, diet, lack of exercise, and so on.
Ayurveda points out that diseases differ mainly because people are so different. Although biology does acknowledge that all of us were born with “biochemical individuality,” this has a few practical implications in the doctor’s office. Biochemical individuality means that no one is average. At any given moment, your cells and tissues do not contain an average level of oxygen, carbon dioxide, iron, insulin, or vitamin C. Instead, they contain a precise amount unique to that moment, to the physical condition of your body, and to the state of your thoughts and emotions. Your body is a three-dimensional composite of millions of tiny differences, and by learning about them you can make dramatic improvements in our health. At this level, perfect health is a very specific biological phenomenon.
Respect Your Uniqueness
Everywhere you look, your body is doing something unique with every molecule of air, water, and food you take in, guided by its innate tendencies. You have the choice to follow these tendencies or modify them, but to recklessly oppose them is unnatural.
In Ayurveda, living in tune with nature – easily, comfortably, and without strain – means respecting your uniqueness.
The first question an Ayurvedic doctor asks is not, “What disease does my patient have?” but, “Who is my patient?” By “who” he does not mean your name but how you are constituted. He looks for the telltale traits that disclose your body type, also known as your prakruti. This Sanskrit term means “nature” – it is your basic nature he wants to uncover before he turns to your complaints and symptoms.
The Ayurvedic body type is like a blueprint outlining the innate tendencies that have been built into your system. A glass of whole milk contains 120 calories, no ! matter who drinks it, but one person uses those calories mainly to store fat, while another converts most of it into energy; a child’s body extracts lots of calcium to build new bone tissue, while an older person passes the same calcium out through his kidneys (and may convert it into a painful kidney stone if his body can no longer deal efficiently with calcium).
By knowing your body type, an Ayurvedic doctor can tell which diet, physical activities, and medical therapies should help you and which might do no good or even cause harm. A pizza with extra cheese can be potentially lethal to someone with advanced artery disease, for example – the fat ingested could be the last straw that ruptures one of the deposits of fatty pl! aque blocking a blood vessel to the heart. Massive heart attacks have resulted from the tiniest of these ruptures. Yet the same pizza would be relatively harmless to the rest of us; high fat is even desirable for those who cannot gain weight on normal diets. Knowing who you are – your prakruti – is an invaluable clue to what you should eat.
These are three important reasons why knowing your body type is the first step toward perfect health:
1. The seeds of disease are sown early. It would be hard to find a heart patient in his forties who had not shown some suspicious signs in his twenties. A pathologist examining the arteries of a deceased 20-year-old can see premature streaks of fat that are liable to create a future heart attack. Even 10-year-olds will already be prone either to allergies or to chronic overweight, high cholesterol, or peptic ulcers. But at this age, when incipient disease is easiest to treat and prevent, symptoms are often difficult to read. By understanding body types and their specific strengths and weaknesses, you can begin to take preventive steps when they do the most good, long before overt illness appears.
2. Body types make prevention more specific. Nobody is prone to every disease, yet most of us try to prevent as many as we can – cancer, heart attacks, osteoporosis, and so on – moving uncertainly from one medical scare to the next. If you try to prevent every disease without knowing your particular predisposition, you are stabbing in the dark. Why do 60 million American adults go around with untreated blood pressure? At least part of the reason is that there is not enough personal connection being made between prevention and the individual who needs it. Heart attacks, cancer, and diabetes happen to specific people, one by one. It only makes sense that prevention must proceed on the same basis.
3. Body types make treatment more accurate once a disease appears. Generalized treatment – prescribing Valium to everyone who is anxious or antacids to! everyone who has an ulcer – is a hit-or-miss affair; it assumes that that a given disease is the same in all people. But as we have seen, this is not true. According to Ayurveda, three people may feel anxious at three different levels of stress. Their ulcers may result from three different diets, job pressures, or difficulties at home. In effect, they are suffering from three different diseases, all of which happen to travel under the same name. This is true for people who chain-smoke, compulsively overeat, or suffer from allergies and asthma. In all these cases, the Ayurvedic body type is remarkably accurate, as you will see, because it can pinpoint what is happening inside each individual.
Know Your Body Type to Understand Yourself
Finally knowing your body type is essential to understanding yourself. When you find out what is actually going on inside, you will no longer be bound by society’s notions of what you should be doing, saying, thinking, and feeling.
One of the delights of learning about Ayuveda is its insight into little things you probably dismiss as idiosyncrasies. On TV everybody is urged to drink a glass of orange juice in the morning, but some people get heartburn or an upset stomach from it. This is not abnormal, it is a sign that they fall into a specific body type for which the acid quality of orange juice is not ideal.
A person whose nerves are jangled by a cup of weak coffee is by nature different from someone who downs three cups of black espresso without feeling a thing. When you react to a cup of coffee, a cold draft, criticism from your boss, a love note, or rainy weather, your body type is sending you a signal. It is a very personal signal that you alone can tune in to. If you start to listen to all these signals that are sent to you day by day, minute by minute, you will notice that they affect your moods, behavior, perceptions, tastes, talents, attraction to other people, and much more.
The phrase “body type” is only a hint at what prakruti means – it is really your world, the personal reality you generate from the creative cord inside. More accurately, we might call your prakruti your “psycho-physiological constitutional type,” a phrase that includes both mind (psyche) and body (physiology). I am avoiding this phrase for the sake of brevity, but it is worth remembering that your physical body type has a mental aspect as well.
Time Magazine heralded Deepak Chopra as one of the 100 heroes and icons of the century, and credited him as "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine." Entertainment Weekly described Deepak Chopra as "Hollywood�s man of the moment, one of publishing�s best-selling and most prolific self-help authors." He is the author of more than 40 books and more than 100 audio, video and CD-Rom titles. He has been published on every continent, and in dozens of languages and his worldwide book sales exceed twenty million copies. Over a dozen of his books have landed on the New York Times Best-seller list. Toastmaster International recognized him as one of the top five outstanding speakers in the world. Through his over two decades of work since leaving his medical practice, Deepak continues to revolutionize common wisdom about the crucial connection between body, mind, spirit, and healing. His mission of "bridging the technological miracles of the west with the wisdom of the east" remains his thrust and provides the basis for his recognition as one of India�s historically greatest ambassadors to the west. Chopra has been a keynote speaker at several academic institutions including Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, Harvard Divinity School, Kellogg School of Management, Stanford Business School and Wharton.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the editor/publisher.
All Material © Copyright Kavita Chhibber and respective authors.
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