Am reading this book and surprised at the science behind breathing. Will be adding interesting notes below as I read it:
- Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain stem, a region known as the primitive brain, while conscious breathing comes from the more evolved areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex.
- Conscious breathing has a calming effect on the mind. Even simple breath awareness, without exerting any control over the natural pattern of the breath, will induce a regular and relaxing rhythm of breathing. This is an effective method of quietening a tense mind. The more complex breathing techniques ofpranayama influence the brain even more deeply. Pranayama has an immediate influence on the nervous system, brain and mind.
- Slow exhalation is performed when one moans or groans in pain, for this removes pain from the pain centre in the brain. The conscious effort required for slow release of the breath needs the help of the cerebral cortex of the brain. The cerebral cortex sends inhibitory impulses to the respiratory centre in the midbrain. These inhibitory impulses from the cortex overflow into the adjoining area of the hypothalamus, concerned with emotions, and quieten this area. Hence the soothing effect of slow expiration.
- One who practises pranayama in a sustained manner will find that every aspect of the being, at every level, is gradually being impacted. As one advances in the practices, the structure, the skin and the smell of the body begin to change. One is always full of fresh energy, and the senses are calmed and their outgoing tendency diminishes. Impurities are removed not only from the physical and pranic bodies but also from the mental, psychic and causal bodies. As a result, the intellectual capacity increases, and the mind and thoughts become more powerful. As prana flows freely though all the levels of being, the negative tendencies begin to drop off almost automatically. The small things that could earlier spin one out of control dissolve into nothing and the connection with and experience of cosmic prana becomes stronger and steadier.
- Pranayama creates static electricity in the body which helps to recharge the positive ions breathed in from the environment and convert them into negative ions. The effect is the same as that created by rain and thunderstorm. Hot and sultry weather makes one feel lethargic but the air becomes fresh and clean with rain and one feels energised and dynamic. Rain and thunderstorm charge the positive ions in the environment and convert them into negative ions. Similarly pranayama generates static electricity in the body in very minute quantities and there is a feeling of improved energy and dynamism.
- Respiratory system: Pranayama exercise the muscles of respiration and the lungs through the processes of deep, rapid or slow breathing. During pranayama one does NOT absorb a larger quantity of oxygen, instead one absorbs almost half of that absorbed during normal breathing per minute. However, the practices allow more time for oxygen to mix with the blood flow and for the system to eliminate waste through the breath and blood. Since pranayama trains respiratory apparatus, a larger quantity of oxygen is absorbed throughout the day than it normally would be.
- Digestive and eliminatory system: The stomach, pancreas, liver, bowels and kidneys are all exercised in pranayama through the accentuated massage given to them by the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles. Constipation is removed. Absorption of nutrition into blood is enhanced.
- Cardiac system: Nadi shodhana pranayama in particular exercises the whole cardiac system. In this practice the ratio of 1:2 maintained between inhalation and exhalation has a direct relationship with the systolic and diastolic periods of the cardio rhythm. (Note from my yoga teacher: one should practice natural breathing during pranayama for atlas 6 months and only then take up changed breathing ratios). Breathing with the ratio of 1:2 relaxes the coronary muscles without reducing the supply of oxygen to the brain and body tissues. 1:2 is the key and it should not increased more than 2 because the brains then accelerates the heart rate in reaction to a decreases supply of oxygen in the blood.
- Endocrine system: Endocrine glands influence the behaviour, reactions, interpretations and even the so-called natural responses. Pranayama harmonises, purifies and neutralises the secretions of these glands and these influences thought and behaviour. During pranayama, richer and more liberal blood supply is brought to the endocrine glands enhancing their functionality.
- Pineal gland: This gland normally begins to decay with the onset of puberty. It acts as a check for the pituitary gland which is responsible for controlling the growth and functions of the other endocrine glands. If the pituitary gland is not regulated from an early age, an imbalance arises between the physical and mental development and the emotions mature before they can be handled. Therefore if children start pranayama at the age of 7 or 8, it maintains the activity of the pineal gland for a longer period, so that the transition from childhood to adulthood is smooth.
- Nervous system: The brain, spinal cord, cranial and spinal nerves benefit from a richer and more liberal blood supply received through pranayama. If pranayama is combined with all the three bandhas, the high intra-thoracic, intra-pulmonary and intra-abdominal pressures gives peripheral stimulus to the different nerve plexuses situated in the abdomen and thorax. The pulling up of the vertebral column as a whole tones the roots of the spinal nerves and gives a strong peripheral stimulus to the whole nervous system.
- Mood: Respiration also controls fluctuating moods, which are subtle behaviours of the mind. The wild fluctuations of the brain waves are streamlined and there is a balance between the two hemispheres of the brain. High blood pressure patients are benefited by the alpha wave behaviour of the brain. Pranayama is started with left nostril to control the mental energy.
- Meditation: By practising pranayama systematically for a few years, a gradual transformation is brought about in the structure of the nervous system. Ultimately there comes a moment when one closes the eyes, goes in and achieves mediation. The velocity of the mind is slowly decreased, but its power is increased. The advantage of stepping into mediation though pranayama is that the mind remains dynamic and does not slip into a state of hypnosis. Usually during meditation the mind wanders and ponders upon daily interactions and passions. One may bring it back to the mediation, but again and again it dissipates.s When pranayama is combined with the practice of mediation, this wandering tendency of the mind is overcome, because the process of pranayama stills the mind and makes it one-pointed.
- Practice: It has been observed that the experience of enhanced energy, mental and physical balance, calmness and mental clarity associated with the pranayama practices increases greatly after several years of practice. The beginners following the same techniques do not show such strong physiological changes.
The book on Kindle: Prana and Pranayama