I am the “Everything” in everything
While you run, ride, swim or just sleep
My most special form is in you – moving
I am the air you breathe – shallow or deep
“Breathe”! Your life depends on it! – Well – true’ our life depends on it – but I do not think we ever received this instruction. We never waited that someone asked us to breath, and however “life” is defined clinically – it can be strongly stated that living is synonymous with breathing. The dots can all be connected – earth, atmosphere, air, breathing, and hence life…
As natural as breathing is and as much a reflex action it is asking for little or no will from our side, our understanding of breathing is limited. No – In this small write-up you will not learn all about breathing. I do not think, we have too many people who are qualified enough to explain everything about breathing, its effects, its ways, its many aspects. I have been reading a bit about breathing and have been reliving my own experiences and I thought I could introduce a few aspects here. Introductions so that they could be probed more, because, as I made attempts to understand, I am seeing that it could be a very rewarding and can contribute positively to our quality of life.
Anatomically – we know (the non-medical people) nose and lungs. However, it is not that simple. In gods design – the entire respiratory system is well thought out and engineered and a phenomenally high number of components come into play when we inhale and exhale. However, for us it may suffice to know that the walls of lungs are attached to the muscles holding the rib cage and the action of breathing in is not the lungs sucking in the air, but we consciously expanding the space by expanding the chest and pushing the diaphragm down, which automatically expands the lungs, thus creating a vacuum which automatically takes the atmospheric air in. For those who swim – it may be clear that you just have to open your mouth outside water and need not make an extra conscious effort to suck in air. Thus relevant to us is only to be in awe of the creation of the creator who designed this system and understand a bit of the behavior of the main components, the chest muscles, which support the rib cage, the nose, the lungs, the diaphragm and the stomach.
What is then a natural way of breathing. Go to a sleeping baby. Observe the face for a while, so that your mental cobwebs get blown away and you are at peace. Go closer to the face and get your cheek very close to the nose. Feel the tiny wisps of breath, which will caress your cheek. Close your eyes and just savor the moment. Then open your eyes, and look at the tummy of the baby. The small tummy is moving up and down rhythmically. By now, you are in a different plane and are enjoying the most peaceful time of your life. You observe your own breathing and you will notice that it is your tummy which is actually moving out and in and your breathing is gentle and barely perceptible or audible. Well that possibly is the most natural way of breathing. Abdominal breathing!
Have you observed Roger Federer? Especially after a long rally! While his opponent is breathing hard and trying to recover, he would be twiddling with the strings of his racquet, with his mouth slightly open. He is an exponent of abdominal breathing. He actually is breathing in enormous volume of air
with minimum effort and also supplying it to every muscle. His recovery is much quicker than his opponents. It possibly is the secret of his prolonged stay at the top. Maybe our own Dhoni is one such practitioner too, as you would see too that he has his mouth open and is always breathing easy. And that he is called captain cool could be because he is an abdominal breather.
Also try controlling your emotions by changing the way you breathe. You are sad, angry, afraid, feeling helpless and have a plethora of emotions, which we can articulate with words… In all those seemingly negative emotional situations, try a few slow abdominal breathes, and see how dramatically things start feeling and looking better. May be if I have to put philosophically – I would solve any problem if I am alive and if I am able to breathe – I am alive.
As I have been reading and also trying on myself, many disciplines have detailed explanations of breathing. For instance, Martial arts make breathing very much an integral part of the learning. In my limited exposure to Karate it was made adequately clear that every Kata I performed, every punch I threw, every kick I executed is incomplete without the right sequence of breath in and breathe out. There are Katas, which only focus on breathing while performing seemingly simple movements. So it is with “Tai Chi”. Please check this quick and energizing warm-up…..
4 deep breaths by expanding your lower abdomen, bringing your diaphragm into play
4 deep breaths expanding your ribcage (sides of your chest)
4 deep breaths consciously trying to expand your back ( the muscles close to your spine)
4 deep breaths expanding your chest – we do this all the time when are in some kind of distress.
Especially profound are the long hours of meditation which is part of Karate training. During these meditation sessions, the sensei would make you focus only on our breathing. He would ask us to consciously observe the feel of the breath as it enters and exits the tip of your nostrils. The moments when you are asked to feel the flow of air during the breathing process, there is a profound revelation as the air caresses each cell of your body as it travels along.
Now – our favorite sport – running. I did go through some writing on that. One that was particularly intriguing was the odd, even pattern. If you observe carefully, you would note that at the beginning of an exhalation your core would relax. Thus the load on the leg which coincides with the exhalation will be heavier. If we notice our own breathing while we run, we do tend to inhale and exhale rhythmically, which means it is the same foot which would land at the beginning of each exhalation. This may result in one side of our body absorbing more impact than the other and hence a possible injury. The recommendation is that we should inhale for three landings and exhale for two landings. Thus ensuring we land at a different foot each time we begin our exhalation. I am trying it out and while I do attribute some merit to it, I am not adept at it enough to say that it is the way we should do. I would encourage you to try it though, as it makes us conscious of breathing. Breathing undeniably ensures proper supply of oxygen to all muscles of the body, which clearly is a major determinant of our running efficiency.
What I did try and found extremely beneficial while running is the calming technique. When I am on a long run and finding some amount of distress, I consciously use my breathing to calm myself down by
regulating it consciously and making it rhythmic and easy. And this has an immediate effect and reducing the distress and contrary to what would one believe, actually enabled my speed to pick up.
And should we talk about Yoga and breathing. Is it even possible to start and complete talking about breathing and yoga? I do not think so – because, yoga when practiced right is possibly the most complete form of breathing discipline. Yoga demands conscious breathing. While the aasanas are the glamorous part of Yoga, the real Cinderella is the breathing while in yoga. We all hear about mindfulness, and being in a moment living it to its fullest. Want to try it – right now, where ever you are! observe all that is around you and consciously try and appreciate the small gifts. Life looks much better. Well, that is what conscious breathing does. It brings you to the present and links you immediately to the moment. You will not say time flies and then regret another moment passing into oblivion without you even living it – rather you would live it to the fullest. I think that is possibly the most profound contribution of yoga, that we can live life to the fullest and in full consciousness.
I am even surprised that I could venture on the audacity of writing on this topic – it is possibly beyond anyone mortal. But still, all I did want to kindle is an intrigue of what we take for granted. If we consciously try to gather more awareness of breathing, we would stand to gain significantly. If that curiosity is triggered – my mission stands accomplished.
RS Raja Gopal Sastry
An ex soldier – now the CFO of a leading manufacturing listed company in India
Connect with Raja Gopal on Facebook