Nutrition, Gym, Walking, Multi Vitamins, Yoga Asanas, running – the world is full of advise on how to be healthy and fit. It is rare to find a specialist who can teach you how to live healthy by breathing right. This Blog helps you get started. We are born with our 1st breath – and we die when we stop breathing, its time to pay more attention to our breath.
Rishis of the past had decoded the connection between breath and a healthy mind & body. Pranayama is the 4th Anga of Patanjalis Ashtanga Yoga. Breath is external manifestation of Prana, the vital life energy. Breath is Sthula, gross. Prana is Sukshma, subtle. By exercising control over breathing you can control the subtle Prana inside. Just as a goldsmith removes the impurities of gold by heating it in the hot furnace, by strongly blowing the blow-pipe, so also the yogic student removes the impurities of the body and the Indriyas by blowing his lungs, i.e., by practising Pranayama.
The ancient science has been explained well by James Nestor in his book “Breath – The New Science of a lost art”. He has used extensive research and experiments to prove his point. This Blog will shed light on 3 things.
- Evolution has shrunk our breathing channels
- How we have forgotten the art of breathing
- What are some corrective measures
Content for this is drawn from the talks of Sri M and the above mentioned book.
Evolution has shrunk our breathing channels
Of the 5400 species of Mammals on the planet, humans are the only ones with misaligned jaws, overbites, underbites and crooked teeth. 40% of the world population suffers from chronic nasal obstructions and half the people are habitual mouth breathers. When the mouth doesn’t grow wide enough we have a V shaped or arched palate. This upward growth hinders the development of the nasal cavity. The reduced nasal space leads to obstruction and inhibits airflow. In the last 1000 years the nasal aperture – the two holes in the back of the throat that connect to the nasal passages have shrunk by 50%.
When the nasal cavity is congested airflow decreases and bacteria flourish. This leads to infection, cold and more bacteria. This forces us to breathe from the mouth – which is the root cause of a lot of our health problems.
Evolution has changed our eating habits
Eating a raw diet took a lot of time and effort. Tenderising food spared us from some effort of chewing and digesting – which saved energy. We started using this extra energy to grow a larger brain. The quickly growing brain needed space – it took it from the front of our face – original home to sinuses, mouth and airways. The face shortened and the mouth shrank. A bony protuberance – the Nose replaced the snout. The smaller vertically positioned nose was less efficient at filtering air. Smaller sinuses and mouth also reduced space in our throat. The more we ate soft cooked calorie rich food – the larger our brains grew and the tighter our airways.
A trend that has been rapidly accelerating. The current generation eats only soft food – from birth food is crushed. Mothers breastfeed their children for days and weeks Vs months and years. Kids of today can no longer eat a piece of sugarcane or crack an apricot with their teeth. When you dont use muscles they become weak. Mushy, soft, refined processed food is making us sick. Our mouths are shrinking, jaws are becoming weaker, teeth are overcrowding and becoming crooked – all because we are not using them.
The more you chew, the more stem cells we release, the more bone density and growth we will trigger, the younger we will look and the better we will breathe.
Evolution doesn’t always mean progress. We are adopting and passing down traits that are detrimental to our health. This concept is called Dysevolution.
Shut your mouth – Stop mouth-breathing
A direct correlation has been observed between mouth breathing and disorders like sleep apnea, snoring, insomnia, crooked teeth. Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure which causes the soft tissues at the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inwards creating less space, making breathing more difficult. Inhaling from the nose has the opposite effect – it forces air against these flabby tissues making the airways wider and toned. Whatever happens to the nose affects the mouth, the airways and the lungs. Mouth-breathing also causes the body to lose 40% more water.
Mouth-breathing contributed to periodontal disease and bad breath and was the number one cause of cavities – even more damaging than sugar.
Nasal breathing helps the sinuses release a high amount of Nitric oxide, a molecule that plays a crucial role in increasing circulation and delivering oxygen to cells. Immunity, weight, circulation, mood , sexual functions are all heavily influenced by the amount of nitric oxide in the body. (Eg Viagra releases Nitric Oxide to the bloodstream). Nasal breathing boosts Nitric Oxide sixfold.
In a lifetime a human being will take 670 million breaths ~ 25,000 breaths a day, so if you do it right you can get yourself in shape very quickly.
The magical Nose
The nose is important because it filters air, heats it, moistens it for easy absorption. The nose also plays a important role in problems like erectile dysfunction, blood pressure & digestion. It responds to the stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle, it regulates heart rate, opens the vessels in our toes. The density of nasal hair helps determine if you will suffer from asthma. The nostrils of every human pulse to their own rhythm.
The science of Pranayama teaches you a variety of breathing techniques. This is serious learning and needs to be taught by a trained professional and the implications if done incorrectly can be serious. The ancient Rishis knew the magical powers of the nose and called it the heavenly door. Healthy nasal breathing starts at birth. Many tribal mothers across the world softly pinched the mouth of the infants if they opened it at night to breathe.
If you dont use it – you lose it. Doctors observed that patients who had undergone laryngectomies (a procedure where a breathing hole is cut in the throat) within a few months to a year almost all had complete nasal obstruction. When the nose is denied regular use it will atrophy. Keeping the nose constantly in use trains the tissue inside the nose and throat to flex and stay open.
Our breathing has become shallow
During covid Sri M repeatedly told Satsangis the power of deep breathing and how that was the best way to prevent infections and strengthen the pulmonary system. Our breathing is shallow. The smaller and less efficient the lungs become the quicker you get sick and die. Our Lungs lose 12% of the capacity between the age of 30 – 50 and continue declining faster as we get older. By 80 you are taking in 30% lesser air than at 20. So you breathe faster and harder. This is the root cause of many health problems.
Successful athletes and swimmers have large lung capacity – Olympic swimmers have lung capacity that is almost twice as large as that of the common man. The good thing is lung capacity can be increased by one and all with practise.
Our diaphragm powers the thoracic pump. When we inhale blood is drawn into the heart as we exhale blood shoots back to the body and lungs. The up and down movement of the diaphragm occurs about 50,000 times a day. The average adult uses only 10% of the range of the diaphragm while breathing. This overburdens the heart and elevates blood pressure.
Shallow breathing limits the range of our diaphragm and lung capacity.
Yogic breathing is a good practise of deep breathing. Take a deep breath – expand the chest , stomach – hold the breath, then exhale slowly. Once you feel all the sir has been exhaled – count 1,2,3, … 10 a few times so that all the residual air is gone out – then take a deep breath and start over again.
We lose weight through exhaled breath. For every 10 Kgs of weight lost – 8 1/2 Kgs comes out from our lungs. The rest is sweat or urination. The lungs are the weight regulating system of our body.
We are breathing too fast
Breathing at a normal rate our lungs will absorb only a quarter of the available oxygen. The majority of the oxygen is exhaled back. By taking longer breaths we allow our lungs to soak in more in a fewer breaths.
The perfect breathing rhythm is when inhale + exhale is ~ 11 seconds. That leads to 5.5 breaths / minute. (Compare that with the normal human 12 – 20 breaths / minute). This was known by our ancient Rishis. I clocked the Gayatri Mantra, Mrityunjaya Mantra, a Paragraph of the Mahishasur Mardini – they are all designed to regulate your breath to 5 – 6 breaths / minute. Pranayama is built into our ancient mantras. Hence the need to chant it at a certain steady speed and not too fast. This practise is observed across religions. Prayer heals when it is practised at 5.5 breaths / minute.
- “Breath – The New Science of a lost art” by James Nestor
- Talks on Pranayama by Sri M
04 comments on “Breathe Right – Live Healthy”
Dear Vak: Thanks for taking the effort to bring this to light. Also, the breath is so closely linked to the mind. Paying attention to our breath can help reduce stress and resolve mental and physical health problems. It’s time we all got back to the basics. 🙂
Excellent. Thanks 🙏