We do not pay serious attention to breathing, the most important of all our bodily functions. A great deal of our mental and physical troubles are due to the fact that we do not breathe correctly. Life and breath are synonymous. Life is breath and the absence of breath is death. We live as long as we breathe. We start our life with the first breath and end it with the last breath. We never stop breathing whether we are awake or asleep. We can live without food and water for a few days but without air we cannot live even for a few minutes. Air is the most important nourishment for our blood, which in turn, feed our cells, tissues, nerves, glands and organs. All the activities of the body, from digestion to creative thinking, depend upon the supply of oxygen through breathing. Yet we treat breathing with utter indifference. To take a few deep breaths is indeed more important than to take a bath or a breakfast.
The habit of shallow breathing is one of the many unnatural habits that modern civilization has forced upon us. Shallow breathing is directly or indirectly responsible for a number of mental and physical ailments ranging form nervous disorders to common colds. To function properly, the brain requires three times more oxygen than the rest of the body. If it does not get its due allotment it extracts it from the body supply. That is why brainworkers often possess a poor physique and poor health. Many people suffer from the lack of oxygen and are not conscious of it.
Deep breathing not only nourishes our system but also cleanses it. Correct breathing keeps the body well ventilated and clean. We pay a dear price for having forgotten that we are an integral part of nature.
In spite of all our inventions and achievements in the field of mechanics, we ourselves are not mere machines. If we are really anxious to keep physically fit and mentally alert, we should begin to re-educate ourselves in the ways of living as taught by yoga. The process of breathing is much more widespread than we generally suppose. It is said that the creation of the world was begun when the Creator breathed upon the waters. Astrology has studied the long drawn out rhythms of the sun and it tells us that the sun breathes regularly, each breath taking 11 years and causing the appearance of the sun’s spots upon its surface. Science has discovered that plants and metals breathe. Needless to say that man also breathes and his lungs must contain a definite amount of air to counteract the law of gravitation which pulls him to the earth. At sea level the pressure is about 16 pounds per square inch and this must be equalized by the intake of air. That is why the lungs never empty all the air they contain. Their total capacity is said to be 250 cubic inches, but they only empty only 150 cubic inches so that there always remains 100 cubic inches of air within them to cleanse and refresh the lungs. The prolonged outward breathing or Rechaka is the most efficacious.
Correct breathing will, of course, exercise a gentle massage and stimulation of the digestive organs, thereby ensuring perfect action of alimentary canal and eliminating the need for pills and drugs. The important aspect of breathing is the rate of frequency at which we breathe. The whole of life is built up by means of different rates of vibrations and therefore the rate of vibration of anything is the most important factor about it, determining what it is, hence, the significance of the speed and rhythm of our breathing. If the speed of breathing is changed to about 26 breaths per minute, it will be impossible for a while to feel pain. That is why in the heat of battle terrible wounds are received without feeling them at all. That is why many great acts are accomplished under the stress of excitement. The breath quickens, the blood heats up and this drives the ego slightly out of the body so that the sensations are hardly felt. We can do and suffer things in hot blood, which we can never achieve in cold blood. Martial music is designed to quicken the breath and emotions and so is the red color on flags and uniform.
By quickening the speed of breath, the body loses its power of self-protection and exhausts itself, but by slowing down the speed of breath it is hardly possible to feel excited, irritable or nervous. If the rate of breathing is reduced to ten per minute, the brain will become clear and ready for work. If the rate can be reduced to five per minute, delicate psychic perceptions will be discernible. Yogis can slow down the rate of breath to one per minute, which allows them an intensity of concentration in experience beyond our imagination. Finally they are able to suspend the breathing altogether and this suspension permits them to enter into deep trance or Samadhi. Slow, deep and gentle breathing will cure insomnia, blood pressure, brain fatique and bad temper.
It is the acknowledged fact that while the body is sustained chemically by food, it is maintained and kept alive by breathing. It is the breathing which provides the physical organism with the electrical energy to preserve its vital power, for we do not breathe air alone, we also inhale electric charges. Oxygen is not the only precious element introduced into out body by respiration but also the electric ions freely dispersed in the outer atmosphere. Air has been defined, from this point of view, as a highly dispersed colloidal system. Air is known to contain ions of varying weights – light, medium and heavy. The process of breathing has been called electro-exchange by physiology. Oxygen which is an active element of metabolic activity, it the most electro negative of chemical elements, hence its role in the maintenance of life process is described not as chemical only but as electric also. Under the action of disease, the electric charges of one or the other of the blood constituents can vary within wide limits and even change sign. It then becomes evident that the bioelectric function of blood circulation is dual. It keeps up the negative tension of the somatic system and keeps up at the same time the positive tension of the nervous system. The whole electric structure is maintained in a state of active efficiency, since the vital tonus is exactly represented by the potential difference between the two electric systems of the body.
Medicine has not been idle in following the discoveries of physiology. Many functional diseases are now treated by the inhaling of negative ions. Even the healing of wounds has been accelerated by the direct application of negative ions. Moreover, the relationship of the vital tonus with the electric tonus has been further confirmed by the results obtained with experiments. The bioelectric experts in the West have discovered methods of measuring the nerve influx. They have proved the interesting fact that the nerve energy is neither physical nor chemical but electrical; that to each function corresponds a special speed of the nerve influx and that each function has its own chronaxie. Hence, chronaxie expresses all the functional properties of the tissue under consideration.
Physiology is the science of function. If the body is related to anatomy, function is related to life. Within and above the physical organism, there is a functional organism which the Yoga science calls the vital or Pranic body. It is this functional body that guides the building of physical body within the mother’s womb and continues that function after birth throughout one’s existence. This Pranic body brings to the organism its vital powers and activities of its various organs. For a modern scientist, as for an ancient seer, function is both the creator and the mover of the organ. The Pranic body maintains and develops the physical organism. This view has necessitated a change in the treatment of diseases. Diseases are more functional than organic. Diagnosis is now defined as an understanding of the whole patient.
Physiology has discovered functional hierarchy and the levels of function are three – the humoral, the autonomous and the voluntary. Of these three the humoral is the basic and it plays an important part in the preservation of the body. The Yoga science has recognized this fact long ago with an insistence on the electro structure of the physical body.
The humoral has its essential function – the regulation of all the chemical processes going on within the cells and is called metabolism. This function is under the rule of the glandular system. The chemical elements absorbed in food or otherwise are first turned into colloids by the various digestive processes and then passed into the blood, finally to be distributed as reserves by the endocrine glands, which maintain the specifically human equilibrium. The thyroid deals with iodine, the pituitary with bromine, the parathyroid with calcium, the supra-renal with the alkali, the liver and pancreas with sugar.
The theory of life as combustion is now superseded by the theory life as electrical induction. The body can no longer be likened to a machine run by heat the activity of which is measured in calories. The body has become an electrical engine. In the humoral system, electricity is found to play an important part since living substance is in its nature colloidal. Its isolated particles carry electrical charges. These charges contribute in highly differentiated electric lining to the somatic substance of the body, whose chemical and organic complexity it espouses and whose activity it commands. Now it has been established that the vital tonus is maintained by the electric charges inbreathed with the air and carried by the blood from the lungs to the cells. The colloidal constitution of the living substance has for its counterpart an organized living of electrical charges. The chemistry of cells and their metabolism has to be maintained by borrowing food and air from the environment. What you really eat and breathe are ions, that is, molecules plus electric charges. These charges represent an all important factor in the maintenance of the vital tonus of the organism. It is on the basis of the electrical structure, which supports the vital tonus of the organism, that the Yoga science asserts that the physical body could be electrified to such an extent as to be literally free from disease and dotage.
We are now in a sound position to understand the relationship between Yoga and medicine. Yoga postulates that there is the Pranamaya Kosha or the Pranic body which is anterior and causal to the physical body, that a functional exchange is continuously going on among the differentiated vital energies and that the functional or Pranic body conducts as well as regulates thermo genesis of this tabernacle. Happily, physiology has discovered these three postulates of Yoga as enunciated by the ancient seers. The discovery by physiology of the electro structure of the electro exchanges with the outer milieu taking place constantly and of the regulation of cellular tension or heat, has necessitated a change in the medical outlook and in the treatment of diseases. It is high time for medicine to set its materialistic standpoint and its empirical view and relate itself to life and function so that it be able to effect functionally unity as well as structural unity that makes the three leveled human organism.
– OM SHANTI | OM SHANTI | OM SHANTIHI –
This article ‘Yoga And Medicine’ is taken from H.H.Mahatapasvi Shri Kumarswamiji’s speech,’Yoga And Medicine’ given at Tapovan, Dharwad 1973.