Your mental state can influence your body and your physical state can influence your mind. Many cultures have modeled these as two separate bodies. The mediator between the two is modeled as an energy body. The two most familiar concepts in this regard are chi and prana. Your breath is the most direct connection to this energy body. This concept of energy is a model that has nothing to do with energy as it is defined by physics, but is a useful way to view what people have experienced all over the world.
Many breathing exercises have been developed to purify and stimulate the flow of energy. Most of these exercises shouldn't be done without the guidance of a teacher as they can damage you if done improperly. There are two from yoga that are safe and effective in improving your lungs and metabolism, while helping to develop a calm mental state.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a purely cleansing breath. It is best approached in three stages.
- Sit in a meditation posture. Close your hand, either hand but traditionally the right, in a fist. Extend the thumb, the little finger, and the ring finger. Place the thumb next to one nostril, and the little and ring fingers next to the other.
- Press the right nostril closed. Inhale for a count of four.
- Exhale for a count of four.
- Release the right nostril. Press the left nostril closed. Inhale for a count of four.
- Exhale for a count of four. This completes one round.
- Sit as in the first exercise.
- Breath in through the left nostril for a count of four.
- Exhale through the right nostril for a count of eight.
- Inhale through the right nostril for a count of four.
- Exhale through the left nostril for a count of eight. This completes one round.
- Full alternate nostril breathing is the same as exercise 2, except between inhalation and exhalation you hold your breath. Don't do so by closing your throat. Simply let your lungs remain expanded. Begin with a count of 4:8:8. If you wish, you can gradually extend the breath retention until it is four times as long as an inhalation, for a count of 4:16:8, then a count of 8:32:16 after about a year of practice. You will see benefits without going to this extent, though. Practice 15 - 20 rounds each day.
Alternate nostril breathing is said to gradually cleanse the energy body. You may feel body growing warm, or even beginning to sweat. If you do, rub the sweat into your body. Sometimes you may see a lightening of the field of vision or feel a vibration in the body.. Emotionally, it leads to a serenity of mind that can help you maintain a calm emotional state even in trying circumstances. Mentally, it helps develop your ability to concentrate.
I find it useful to visualize as I breathe. As I inhale, I picture my breath as a stream of white light that enters through my nose and descends my back on the same side I am using to inhale. As I exhale, I picture my breath as a stream of grey light ascending my back on the same side through which I am exhaling. The grey represents the poisons that are being eliminated from my body.
You shouldn't do this or any breathing exercise right after physical exertion or eating. Your bladder and bowels should also be empty. Never lengthen your inhalation, exhalation, or retention to the point of strain. The breathing should be easy and totally soundless. You should hear nothing as you breath.
The Skull Shine Breath
The skull shine breath is purely a cleansing breath to cleanse your lungs of dead air, and cleanse the bronchial passages.
Have you ever noticed a toddler's belly? Big, isn't it. It isn't big because the baby is fat. It's big because toddlers tend to breathe from their diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle that lies between the lungs and the abdominal cavity. It is the natural motor for the bellows that are our lungs. It may sound strange, but as we grow up we tend to forget how to use the diaphragm in breathing, especially females. The upper part of your belly sticking out if you aren't pregnant isn't considered attractive. We stop breathing from our diaphragms, and begin to breath from our chests. This exercise teaches you to breath from your diaphragm again. As a result, the lower part of your lungs are better aerated, and you are able to get more oxygen into the system with each breath.
- Sit in a meditation posture
- Completely exhale, tightening the upper part of your chest, then the middle part, and finally your diaphragm.
- Relax your diaphragm. Air will naturally enter your lungs.
- Exhale by tightening your diaphragm and pulling it up toward your lungs. This is one expulsion.
Do this 10 expulsions. Relax and breathe normally for a few breaths, Repeat twice more. You can gradually increase the number of expulsions up to any you are comfortable with. I usually do 3 rounds of 50 expulsions. Set up a quick rhythm, with expulsion taking about a quarter of the time of an inhalation.
Perform the alternate nostril breathing for a couple of months before starting this exercise. That will help accustom you to keeping your body relaxed as you breath. A frequent mistake people make with this exercise is tensing their body as they breathe, especially by hunching up their shoulders. Don't. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
As I said, this exercise draws a lot of oxygen into the system, so don't overdo it. The object is to ventilate, not hyperventilate. You may feel light headed. You will definitely feel warmed, and possibly have a pinprick sensation across your skin. Extra carbon dioxide is eliminated. My experience is that the metabolism is enhanced. Oxygen is needed to metabolize the food we eat, and this exercise definitely increases your oxygen intake. The forced contraction of the diaphragm also helps tighten the abdominal area over time, leading to losses from your waistline. Over time, the exercise is said to help with breathing problems. Whether that is true or not, I don't know.