The Miracle of Breathwork in Yoga

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Anshu Bahanda: This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness, so that you can then go and empower others. The Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh in his writings ‘Being Peace’, says “breathing in, I calm my body and mind, and breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” So the world is waking up to the huge benefits of breathwork. It can help with anxiety, sleep, stress and lots more things. It’s a wonderfully powerful tool which we will explore through the age-old tradition today of breathwork in yoga. Professor Prahlad is the head of Yoga at Pema Wellness. He guides people globally on the important science of breathing and its impact on daily life, on physical, cognitive and coherent functions in the body.We got so much invaluable information today. 

Professor Prahlad, as we know, breathing in is essential for life, of course, but it’s not just about getting oxygen into our body. The power of the breath is an essential tool for wellness. So how is breath work different from just breathing? And how can we use it to deliver positive benefits for the mind and for the body? 

Professor Prahlad: So before understanding the breath work, we have to classify it or divide it. So I have divided it into 3 B’s – B for body, B for breath and another B for breathing. So when we are understanding our body through any channels or through any techniques, breath [gets] influenced, or when we influence the breath, the body [is influenced] simultaneously. So does the body require the breath or does the breath require the body?

AB: So the body requires the breath. 

Prof P: So breath doesn’t require the body, right? 

AB: Well, I guess how will you breathe if you don’t have a body? 

Prof P: True. That’s what, the prana is everywhere, the breath is everywhere in this universe. But I am a receiver by my body, so I will receive that breath through my body. So when I practise my breath to calm down or to activate it, that will be the course of breathing practice. The breath is essential for my life. Body is also essential for my being. But breathing is always influenced by my action of the body. For example, eating. My breath is influenced by my body moments, my actions in the day, through the body. It will influence my breath, unaware or aware. In yoga, we are adjusting the breath accordingly and then framing the body in particular postures, or in asanas or in sitting. So that is a very simple difference where the body is acting according to its needs and demands during the day, my breath is influenced by that. Whereas in yoga, I make my body still, calm and quiet in one posture, and then I modify my breath okay. If I start running for 100 metres or 200 metres, I don’t know how my body is breathing but it will be very fast and rigorous breathing. In the Yogic postures, my body is not doing anything at all. Body is still and ideally sitting in one posture. So in my day to day life, my body is going on with its own flow. My breath is also going on its own flow. And my breathing is also influenced by both. Talking about yoga, it means consciously I am guiding my breath. Keeping my body ideally or in a steady pose or in a calm and quiet state by itself is the only way I can practise breathing. If I’m feeling my rib cage moving with my breath, it is called the chest breath. If I feel my belly is moving, my belly is involved in that, it’s called BB belly breath. When we are going to practise the Yogic breathing, we should know where I am standing in my breathing pattern. I have to make my entire breathing process effortless. Whereas my body is working, my breathing is completely under stress. If your breath is coming only up to your clavicular— CB [clavicular breathing] first it means the breath is ill. It’s not going fully. Then it influences the body and later on, the body will become ill. 

AB: Wow. That is fascinating. 

Prof P: Your breath is the impulse of your mind. If you calm down your breath, your impulses are reduced in your brain. 

AB: Pranayama actually helps remove all the blockages because there’s no body movement involved. There’s only breath work involved in a comfortable position. You and I had a wonderful conversation when I was there, which I had not had with anyone before on the significance of breath work at different stages of your life. That was an amazing learning for me and I’d love for you to explain a little bit. 

Prof P: Life has a seven year cycle. So 1 to 7 years, the brain is developed in the child. From 7 to 14, the body is developed completely, puberty comes. From 14 to 21, we are under the influence of hormones. From 21 to 28 is the best time for the body to work on its own. I always used to say that your hormones and your breath is your life. Your physical body is not life. People say “I’m living my life” or “I want to do something in my life.” So that is the period from 21 till 35 years. After 35, problems begin with the body. The hormones slightly decline till 42 and from 42 to 49 it suddenly declines in the body. So it has a very deep impact on the physical body. The body is working on the breath, the body is growing and harmonising the body itself. So the brain requires more breathing process and regulated breathing process to grow the brain. When I was a child, no one taught me to improve my oxygen. So it means something happened with the body, that’s why it is declining. It is happening because my hormones are declining and my vitality of all the organs will reduce. Therefore I need to revitalise, rejuvenate and charge myself. So we should not allow the breath to decline. We should hold the breath in the same sequence. Therefore we should or must practise Pranayama after 42.

AB: What Pranayama should people do after 42, for how long and how often?

Prof P: Every day and for half an hour. That first Pranayama should be practised by them is Anuloma Viloma Pranayama. Then second should be practised is Nadi Sodhana, then Bhramari Pranayama. These three Pranayamas, they should be practised for 15 minutes each. 

AB: So I’m going to ask you now to give us some simple tools that we can use in breath work to help us with different ailments. So can you give us some simple tools for energy levels and hormonal imbalance? 

Prof P: When I practise the breath, my body will synchronise by itself. So when my body and life is unorganised, only then am I having a lot of trouble with my life. So if I start practising the breath, it will reorganise my body internally. As I said, your hormones and breath are life. When you minimise the use of the physical body while practising the Pranayama, then your energy improves in the Pranayama. Because continuing your breath or continuing your breathing process also requires energy. If you don’t know how to minimise your energy, if you use your energy more to complete your breath work, it means one side you are losing your energy to do your breath and another side, you’re trying to improve your energy. It never works. So how do the energies increase in the body? It is when I minimise my usage of internal energy, which is called resting metabolism, resting energy, I have to reduce that. So I will save my energy in that aspect. 

AB: Okay, how do you do that? 

Prof P: Once you make your body completely relaxed, your body will not influence the breath.

AB: In terms of stress and blood pressure, can you give us some pointers that people can do in their own houses? 

Prof P: Practise the effortless breath to calm down your body. So when I practise that effortless breath, it will improve the flow of blood. 

AB: So when you say effortless breath, do you mean just learn how to breathe? 

Prof P: Teach your body to breathe, not yourself to breathe. When you come to the practice of Pranayama, then only you have to consciously breathe or regulate. 

AB: So you’re saying to me that you have to just allow your body to effortlessly breathe till you come to the practice of Pranayama? 

Prof P: Yes. So we have to learn to rest and relax. Therefore we should practise Yoga Nidra five minute, sitting postures. Just sit calm and quiet for five minutes and don’t do anything. So these are the kinds of things you have to cultivate in your day to day activities. 

AB: What about blood pressure? 

Prof P: Blood pressure will come down when the flow of blood when you rest, your body is under complete rest. The strain and stress is being eliminated by the adjustment of breath in the body, so the entire body will become relaxed. Your arteries will start dilating. The flow of blood will increase, the pressure of blood will decrease. 

AB: That’s if people have high blood pressure? 

Prof P: Yes. Never try to breathe consciously without practising calmness, rest and relaxation by your body. 

AB: If you’re feeling anxious, if you’re feeling stressed out, don’t go straight into breathing. You first need to do the asanas to get the flow of blood going. And then you need to practise what you call shavasana or just lying flat down and totally relaxing your mind and body and doing nothing. So that you actually rest your body and your breath and everything before you go into practising Pranayama. Another one was that a lot of people experience pains and inflammation in their body. And I know you’ve helped a lot of people deal with that. So can you give us some pointers? 

Prof P: If you provide proper calmness and quietness and relaxation for the body, within a week, you can heal your pain and actions by just simply following your breaths. Just lie down ideally and follow your breath. Don’t practise your breath, follow your breath. I am treating the people here in our centre within three days. I’ll make them lie down in one particular posture and I’ll allow them to only follow their breath. I will not teach them anything. So when the breath is regulated by itself, then within the next three days, I’m able to treat their pain and act on the body. 

AB: Okay, and what about weight loss? 

Prof P: Weight loss is a simple process. Your fat is considered CO2. Understand the science, why I should practise the Kapal Bhati, why I should practise the Bhastrika. It reduces your weight because I’m throwing the CO2 out of my body. In a mechanism or internally, I’m using my breath. 

AB: So you were saying that you have to breathe all the way through, right? Not just on top, but all the way right down to the tailbone. How can we help people do that? 

Prof P: First, either they should make their spine completely relaxed by following certain instructions of the teacher or they should learn how to sit straight first. 

AB: Will you tell us how to sit straight? 

Prof P: Yes. So when you sit straight while taking your tailbone out, when you tuck your tailbone out, move your pelvic bone forward, naturally, your spine becomes straight. Hold that posture. So you need to flex your groyne like Padmasana. Once you do the Padmasana, your tailbone is getting at 30 angle, naturally the breath will flow till your tailbone or muladhara chakra. This is the modification of the natural curve that comes when you are sitting in Padmasana. 

AB: Do you have any last parting words of advice for people listening in?

Prof P: They must learn the breath. Then they should practise breathing. The second one is they must learn how to relax the body, then they should practise the breath. So they must and should practise these things under expert guidance. They themselves should not try. 

AB: That was wonderful, Professor Prahlad. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. And here’s to you, leading your best life.