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Breath is Life
Breath is life. Our individuality begins with an inhalation. During the span of a lifetime, we exchange our personal molecules with the molecules of our environment more than 400 million times through the inflow and outflow of our breath. With each breath, we release trillions of molecules that belonged to us, and we assume temporary ownership of trillions of molecules that previously belonged to some other living being. Breathing is an essential recycling of life energy. At the end of our life, we exhale our last breath, and our individuality returns to the universal.
In Ayurveda and yoga, the breath is intimately associated with vital energy, known in Sanskrit as prana. According to ancient yogic texts, prana is “the flight of a bird, rising from earth to heaven, tied to a golden filament.” The earth represents our core survival needs as symbolized by the root chakra, called Muladhara. Heaven is the intuitive center residing in the brain, known as Ajna, in which our individuality has access to cosmic creativity. The filament represents the channel through which our ego is connected with our soul. Our breath is the delicate yet powerful thread that weaves together our environment, senses, body, mind, and soul. Effortless breathing is a hallmark of healthy integration between the layers of our being.
Physiologically, neuroscientists divide the human nervous system into two categories—voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary nervous system allows you to snap your fingers, walk your dog, drive your car, and perform the innumerable tasks that translate your intentions into actions. These intentions, generated in your soul, activate your mind, which then uses your brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles to manifest your desires in the world of form and phenomena.
The involuntary nervous system is responsible for maintaining a balanced internal state. The dynamic regulation of core physiological functions is known as homeostasis. In order for you to be healthy, your body’s intelligence is continuously regulating your heart rate, body temperature, digestive functions, metabolic activity, hormonal regulation, and immune responses.
Respiration is one of the few functions whose regulation can shift from involuntary to voluntary. When we bring our attention to the breath, we are capable of altering its rate, depth, or rhythm and can even stop it voluntarily for a short while. As soon as we divert our conscious attention from the breath, its control shifts back to involuntary. This ability to temporarily assume control over breathing provides a window into the mind-body connection.
Regulation of the breath is called pranayama. There are many different pranayama exercises that can be used to energize, soothe, and calm the mind and body. The core pranayama exercise is to consciously take a deep breath. A slow, deep inhalation followed by a slow exhalation awakens the relaxation side of the involuntary nervous system and restores the memory of whol...
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