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Breathing, yes of course we do it, if not we’d be dead, obvious isn’t it. But in the far east Breathing techniques have been used for thousands of years. Not only as a means of improving the health and vitality of both the body and mind, but also as a means of connecting to the Higher Spiritual Realms. In the far east the practice is called Pranayama and is an integral part of Hatha Yoga.
There must be a word of warning, to the uninitiated, using Pranayama techniques too vigorously or forcibly can cause damage to the heart, lungs or even mind. It is always best to practice these techniques gently, don’t be in a rush, the benefits can last the whole of your life. And for your purposes, it is only the basic techniques that are needed to accumulate Qi (chee or chi) in the body for use by your Inner-Self to help manifest your desired reality. If over time you feel the benefit of these gentle exercises, then that is the time to explore this area in greater detail and to seek adequate instruction.
A Brief History of Pranayama and Qi Qong:
The Indians developed the idea of Prana, a semi-mystical life force that pervades the body, which is responsible for life, health and transcendence. The Chinese developed the idea of life force being Qi, a force that helps maintain end extend life. The Chinese concept is not as mystical as the Indian, but both arrived at a system that could benefit the body and mind using similar techniques.
Pranayama is a ‘Sanskrit’ word meaning ‘control of breath’. Its essence lies in the modification of our normal process of breathing. Breathing is an act in which we take air from the atmosphere into our lungs, absorb the oxygen from it into our blood, and expel the air again into the atmosphere together with carbon dioxide and water vapor.
Pranayama consists of modifications of the breathing process, which we bring about deliberately and consciously. We can modify breathing in three different ways:
By inhaling and exhaling rapidly, taking shallow breaths.
By inhaling and exhaling slowly, taking long or deep breaths.
By stopping the act of breathing altogether.
We are primarily concerned with No 2. This type of breath control will allow us to create the necessary extra Qi(chee) our bodies need to increase fitness levels and a clearer mind.
The original Prana breathing methods were part of the ancient Indian Vedas some 1200 to 1500 BC. The most sacred Indian text of the second century BC the ‘Bhagavadgita’ mentions Pranayama as a means of spiritual enlightenment. Although the process of spiritual enlightenment is far less easy to quantify, the use of Pranayama as a means of strengthening the health is well documented.
Pranayama breathing techniques are often used as a precursor to meditation.
Qi Qong, is similar to Pranayama in that Qi (chee) means breath or breath of life and ‘Qong’ means mental control over the body. It is believed that Qi Qong is even older than Pranayama and early breath control practices became an important part of Chinese medicine. When you next yawn, which might be now, seeing how we have mentioned it. Observe how you feel when the yawn has finished, your body will be relaxed, if you had any pain or discomfort, this would be alleviated for a few seconds. This is an example of how the changing of your normal breathing pattern can bring a change to your body conditions. The Chinese believe it is the disruption of the flow of Qi within the body that causes many diseases and the re-establishment of the Qi (energy) flows that can bring about an upturn in our well being.
Using these practices on a daily basis can give us a good platform for strengthening our immune systems.
A word of caution, be very mindful when performing this Pranayama (Yoga Breathing Exercise), and return to normal breathing if you feel light-headed, dizzy, or faint. Remember we only need the basic breath control here, if you think Pranayama can bring you more benefits then look for one of the many good books available or better still join a class.
There are several postures recommended for Pranayama breathing exercises, most include the type of sitting with crossed legs that can be seen in many books or TV programs. Not many people have the time to spend learning how to achieve these postures, although they can prove beneficial. But to start your basic breathing exercise there is only one rule, ‘NO slouching’. If you prefer to sit, keep a straight back, this will allow for the free passage of air between the throat, lungs and abdomen. Keeping a straight back will also keep your mind more alert. Although you can lie down if necessary, it is more difficult to do deep breathing while on your back, initially anyway. If you wish to learn about the other postures recommended, there are many good books available on Hatha Yoga.
Unless stated all inhalations and exhalations should be through your nostrils, this allows the body greater control over respiration.
To do yoga belly breathing properly you should allow your lungs to fill from the bottom up, this will assure you of maximum air penetration and absorption. The lungs lay just behind the rib cage and are attached to the ribs, they are therefore pulled open and closed by them. If you are breathing only with the top half of the chest, the top of your lungs will open first so that the air fills them only up at the very top. If on the other hand you push your belly out as you inhale you will expand your diaphragm first. The lower ribs will then push out and open the lower portion of the lung first. The air will then rush down into them to fill the vacuum there and so fills your whole lung chamber from the bottom to the top. When you exhale, you are in effect reversing the process, by pulling the belly in at the end of the exhalation. This last movement pushes the air complexly out of the lower portion of your lungs and so pushes all the toxins of the used air out of your lungs.
Don’t worry if takes you a little time to practice and feel right when using this breathing method.
Deeper, steady breathing can increase the amount of oxygen the body can use to burn out disease.
The use of Pranayama increase the amount of ‘chi’ the body can use, for health and spiritual matters.
‘Chi’ can be used by the Inner and Higher-Self to help manifest your desires.
Start to breathe deeper when relaxing during the day and see what a difference it can make to how you feel.