Our breath is essential to the body as well as to the practice of meditation. Deep breathing is necessary to heal and purify our energy. Breath is taken for granted and breathing exercises are rarely part of one's daily routine. This article will focus on the importance of the breath as well as the basic concepts of prana / apana and sukha / dukha.
The benefits of a quality breath are: the development of concentration; positive thoughts; release of toxins; source of oxygen; and sustenance of life. Breathing develops concentration by relaxing the body and calming the mind. It creates positive thoughts as the breath is used to assist in dispelling negative thoughts, causing a tranquilizing effect on the body. During exhalation, toxins such as carbon dioxide, are expelled. Breathing takes in oxygen that is critical for the brain. The breath sustains human life through its respiratory activities as well as assisting other bodily functions such as aerating the blood and assisting the liver in the regulation of starches.
How does proper breathing affect our anatomy? Our lungs are three dimensional and located in the thoracic (chest) cavity. Lungs have three areas: upper, middle and lower. The thoracic cavity changes in shape and volume. For us to breathe, the thoracic (chest) cavity needs assistance from the abdominal cavity in changing its shape. The condition of the abdominal cavity influences the quality of our breath, which has a powerful effect on the health of our abdominal organs. The diaphragm forms the roof of the abdominal cavity and the floor of the thoracic (chest) cavity, which is the single muscle that is capable of producing movement between the two cavities. The diaphragm plays an important role determining the quality of the breath, which engages all three areas of the lung.
What is breath? Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy, defines breathing as the process of taking air into and expelling it from the lungs and its effects on the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Inhalation is the process of taking air into our lungs, which increases the volume and shape of the thoracic (chest) cavity from top to bottom from side to side and from front to back. During inhalation, air pushes downward on the abdominal cavity, which changes its shape. Expulsion of air, exhalation, pushes upward into the thoracic cavity. Exhalation can be either passive or active. The more active the exhalation the more the pressure the thoracic cavity will experience. There are two types of breaths, chest or belly breath. Chest breathing engines only the top lobes of the lungs, so less oxygen transfers to the lungs. Belly breathing is during intervention the diaphragm is contracted, it is forced downward, causing the stomach to expand. The pressure forces air into the lungs, engaging lower, middle and upper lobes.
The basic concepts to examine for essentials of life and meditation are prana / apana and sukha / dukha. Prana means bringing nourishment or is the “life of breath.” Prana is the intervention of air into the lungs where it exchanges gases with the capillaries and nourishes the cell wall. The breath or air travels down into the abdomen. Apana means elimination or is “the elimination force of the body.” To exhale the body needs to move upward to eliminate the air. Sukha means joy, pleasant or positive space and dukha means unpleasant, suffering or negative space. Prana and apana need a healthy relationship so there may be sukha, not dukha. Meditation is a technique where one can seek sukha and the breath plays a prevalent role. The breath is used in all styles of meditation, so engaging in breathing exercises is a habit that will strengthen your health, well being and any type of meditation practice. The following article will focus on common breathing exercises to enable one to practice belly breathing.