Breathe Yoga

Published in DYC New Zealand, Jan 2017

It was in the year 1989 that I first heard of His Holiness Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji. I was in a temple in Tamil Nadu meditating when someone handed me a piece of paper with His name and said, “I think you would like to meet this Swami. He has many powers”. I asked where to find Him. He replied, “Go to Mysore. All know of Him”. The next morning I planned to leave after morning meditation—that is, until I received a clear inner message to “wait until all can see Him.” I did not understand this message except to think that perhaps more will be present when we meet. Regardless, I felt it was a message not to go at this time.
A year later, one late evening, I suddenly felt the urge to transform our home into an ashrama. Completing at 2am, after I chanted a Devi bhajan, a yoga student handed me a xerox copy of a small pamphlet about Sri Swamiji and His arrival in one month to the town where we lived. I immediately felt Sri Swamiji would be coming to our hOMe-ashrama. The next morning I called the number listed and offered our yoga center and accommodations. The devotee said plans were already made so no thanks. 🙂 I hung up and said “Let’s get ready for His Arrival as He is coming here to stay!” :))
A month later, one hour before the flight was due to arrive, the devotee called asking for help as his wife had gone into labor! We were given the assignment to pick up the musical equipment at the airport. We saw Sri Swamiji for the first time at the reception when many came to welcome the Datta Guru. I was in the back of the room as people began to ask where the various programs would be held. Each time Sri Swamiji pointed to me even though we had not met yet. So for the next five days, our newly transformed hOMe was the location for Sri Cakra Puja, Kriyā Yoga, and the Healing & Meditation Music Concert!
From the time Sri Swamiji made entrance into my life, there has been unexplainable, awesome “Datta Divine Magic”. For example, the morning after the reception, Sri Swamiji was asked about the siddhis (spiritual accomplishments) that flow through Him. “You have to master prāṇāyāma, at least one prāṇāyāma such as sun moon breath,” Sri Swamiji said. Then Sri Swamiji took the rose that I had just given Him, and pulled the outer petals away from the center. To our surprise, at the base of the rose was a small Gaṇeśa that began to grow! To this day, this special Ganapathy has a fragrance. With such experiences, Sri Swamiji shows how easily the elements can change; how prāṇa can transform when one has secured prāṇāyāma mastery.
Through the practice of prāṇāyāma, the life-force, prāṇa, cleanses the body-mind preparing for meditation. The abundance of this energy accumulates and cultivates into a more refined energy. Āyurveda expresses it in this way: as energy increases, prāṇa condenses into tejas and tejas condenses to ojas (the sustaining power). Ojas provides a strong immune system and the energy support for awakening kuṇḍalinī. Prāṇāyāma is one of the classic yoga techniques that Sri Swamiji provides as a yogic discipline to calm the mind. As vital as prāṇāyāma is to the evolution of consciousness, there are also other techniques employed. But we must remember, as air is to life, prāṇāyāma is to the spiritual journey. Regardless of what additional practices we include in our sādhanā, prāṇāyāma is for all to practice daily, as regular as we breathe.
The respiratory rate of 21,600 breaths per day / 15 breaths per minute takes place as the flow of breath enters and exits. The respiratory rate is the number of breaths taken in a one-minute period during rest. Patients with lung issues or dementia, for example, have a rate of 20-25 breaths per minute. Other health issues, such as hypoventilation, create a breathing rate of less than 10 breaths per minute. The average breath rate can be this low if there is not a health issue creating it but rather due to conscious breath control. A yogī can take even fewer breaths; however, because the breath rate is consciously developed it, strengthens health and calms the mind. Below 12 and over 25 breaths per minute is considered abnormal in medical science. The average adult is said to range from 12–20 breaths per minute. The fastest breath is performed by babies and infants with 30-40 breaths per minute. For a yogi, a slow, rhythmic breath is essential for concentration. Thus, the practice of prāṇāyāma plays an important role for health of body-mind and support for meditation.
A breath that flows in rhythm is the foundation for prāṇāyāma. Rush University Medical Center says that lungs at rest are only using 50 percent of their capacity, meaning half of the lungs are underused. It is said that if you are good to your pair of air-filled organs, they will be good to you by providing fresh oxygen throughout the bloodstream. The lungs should stay healthy throughout our lives if we maintain a healthy breath. However, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. The American Lung Association (ALA) estimates that more than 12 million people in USA are diagnosed with COPD and another 12 million or more are likely to have COPD but are unaware of it. We live by the breath. We enter this physical body with the first inhalation and leave Earth with the exhalation. The quality of our thinking is influenced greatly by the breath flow or lack thereof. For all reasons, develop a long, slow breath. After prāṇāyāma, the natural breath will flow effortlessly, a precursor to good health and a clear mind.
Prāṇa (universal life-energy) is eternal. All forms or objects are a result of the prāṇic fabric in which everything is made from, sustained by, and returns to. Prāṇāyāma gives access to controlling this vital energy. Prāṇa and consiousness are universally connected like day and night; inhale and exhale; birth and departure. A shallow breath not only limits oxygen flowing into the bloodstream through the lungs but also restricts prāṇa. Prāṇa fuel is essential on the journey of meditation (consciousness expansion). It is shown that only several minutes or 5–10 complete breaths slows the heart rate and stabilizes or lowers blood pressure. When the lungs are not exercised regularly then chronic shallow breathing often emerges; whereas, prāṇāyāma exercises the lungs with a series of breathing practices and becomes continuous when the natural breath effortlessly flows in rhythm.
Walking helps the lungs to work efficiently, supplying the body with oxygen. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes to enjoy a daily, brisk walk. Research shows that it is best to start with 30 minutes instead of an hour for an exercise program. It concluded saying more will adopt a daily routine if it is not too long—thus, the reason the benefits were greater for those in the group who exercised 30 minutes daily compared to 60 minutes. You can also enjoy a daily 30 minute practice of prāṇāyāma, dhāraṇā, and dhyāna.
Ensure nose breathing unless it is a specific cooling prāṇāyāma. Breathing through the mouth is a habit that many suffer from as a result of oxygen deprivation. The way you breathe during the day will guide the way you breathe during sleep. Mouth breathers are most apt to snore. Those who snore are most likely to get sleep apnea. With mouth breathing, the brain thinks the release rate of carbon dioxide is too high so stimulates goblet cells to produce excess mucous. This slows the breathing adversely while contracting blood vessels. Through repetition of mouth breathing, facial and dental development can be altered, especially in children because their bodies are still developing. In mouth breathing it is common for the head to lean forward resulting in a rounded back and misaligned spine. By taking the recommended 30 minute daily to practice prāṇāyāma, one can ensure a healthier body and mind with greater powers of longevity.
The breath flows most efficiently through both nostrils. Practice Sun-Moon breath daily and it will balance and steady the air flow through both nostrils. The great energies of duality reflect through the two nostrils. After practicing Sun-Moon breath (surya-candra prāṇāyāma), the air will flow equally through both representing non-duality. Thus, it will be most conducive for meditation, as one journeys into the unified field of consciousness ~ sat cit ānanda.
Yogini Kaliji