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 autonomic as well volitional centres of the brain. On subtle plane breath and states of consciousness are interconnected and on physical level it corresponds with our nervous system.
Breathing is normally controlled by the 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 will using the higher centers of the brain, otherwise lower centers of the brain regulate our breathing when our mind is occupied elsewhere.
As we know, the rhythm of the breath is directly affected by our physical as well as 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 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.
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 centre 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 centres 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 tranquillity.”
There is one simple pranayama techniques (breathing technique) known as Nadi Shodhana pranayama which helps to tone the autonomic centre and enhances the level of relaxation. Nadi Shodhana pranayama is an excellent technique to relax and balance the two sides of hemispheres.
Perform this technique sit in a comfortable position either on the floor or on a chair. Keep the body relaxed and upright. And then for a few moments to focus our 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.
Now place the first two fingers of the right hand on the eyebrow centre 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.
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.
Sushant is Meditation & Philosophy Teacher and Academic Director at Rishikesh Yogis. Sushant carries long years of experience teaching practical as well as philosophical aspects of Kundalini yoga, Kriya yoga, Hatha Yoga and Tantra philosophy.