How to imbibe the true essence of breathing

Try this game.

Partner with a friend and play-act as though he/she has borrowed your most favourite book from you a month ago. You want your friend to return this book but he/she has no memory of it. You remind your friend…`This is the title, this is the writer, this is the cover picture…’ but your friend says he/she thinks that the book has been returned. No, you say, it has not. Its your most favourite book. The script of the play-act requires you to get angry and upset because you have read it 10 times and now you want to read it again. You start accusing your friend of being irresponsible, of having lost it, of having sold it, and all sorts of things. Your friend is hurt and the friendship is teetering on the edge of a cliff.

Now stop the game….Sit down quietly in Sukhasana for five to eight minutes. Take slow deep breaths and watch your breathing. As it slows down, you will find yourself becoming more relaxed, calmer, perhaps even introspective. Now slowly come out of Sukhasana, and get ready to play-act the above scene again. Your friend has lost your book and you are supposed to get angry. Now, maintaining the same slow pace of breathing, try getting angry. You will find that it is absolutely impossible to get angry and upset. Your mind is calmer now because of the relaxed breathing; the monkey-mind that is always jumping about and chattering has quietened down. A relaxed mind is capable of considering many options—maybe your friend really has a bad memory and perhaps you could go over to his/her house and help her find the book. Option 2: Maybe the book has really been returned and you have forgotten about it. Option 3: Maybe he/she has really lost the book and honestly doesn’t remember borrowing the book; but is a friendship worth losing because of a book?

Staying calm and relaxed from the slow, easy, deep breathing makes it possible for you to pause and respond in a more gentle, humane, and compassionate manner. It also boosts your immune system.

When we are upset, angry, fearful, stressed our breathing automatically becomes fast and shallow, and when we are relaxed and happy our breathing is also deep, slow and relaxed. Keeping this in mind, we can treat breath as a handle—if a relaxed state results in relaxed breathing, then common sense tells us that the converse is also true….relaxed breathing can result in a relaxed state. Why not use this knowledge to our advantage? And in a big city this little piece of information will come in handy everywhere—in the crowded train where the person next to you is standing on your foot, at home when the kids are making a racket, at work when the boss is losing his cool because he knows nothing about deep breathing, etc etc.

Unfortunately, we learn these things only later on in life although breathing is the first thing we do. And slow, relaxed breathing is only the tip of the iceberg. The various Pranayamas consist of many variations e.g. abdominal breathing, alternate nostril breathing, clavicular breathing, and these make it possible to take the practitioner beyond mere freedom from stress; they make it possible to enter deeper levels of peace and silence within oneself, what is known as meditation.

The quality of our breathing also has an effect on our lifespan and this is a proven fact. The slower the breaths, the longer the lifespan:

Humans have a 12 to 20 bpm (breaths per minute), lifespan approx. 60 to 80 years

Dogs have a 20 to 30, lifespan 10 to 20 years

Whales have a 4 to 6 bpm, lifespan 100 years

Giant tortoises have a bpm of 4, lifespan over 150 years

Funny as it sounds, humans have learnt the arts, the sciences, business, commerce, we have learnt to fly planes and build bullet trains etc. but we haven’t learnt to breathe. So lets tap into the secrets of breathing—after all, they are right under our nose.

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