In Meditation Breathing Exercises I discussed alternate nostril breathing and the skull shine breath. These are designed to effect you physically, emotionally, and mentally.
- Physical. Increase the flow of oxygen in the body, equilibriate the metabolism, cleanse the lungs.
- Emotional. Reduce stress, calm the motions, instill a sense of serenity.
- Mental. Improve the ability to concentrate. Improve the ability to be detached. Clear the mind of unwanted thoughts.
I also introduced the concept of a type of energy that many cultures have seen as mediating between the physical body and the mind and emotions. The prime examples of this are prana in Hindu thought and chi in Chinese thought. In this model, breathing is the anchor we use to manipulate this vital energy. Viewed in this way, alternate nostril breathing is designed to purify the vital body. The skull shine breath is designed to increase the amount of vital energy we take in.
A third breathing exercise that can safely be done without a teacher is the victorious breath.
Cleanse the lungs. Increase lung capacity. Improve oxygen intake. Increase vital energy intake.
Posture - The victorious breath can be done sitting, lying down, or standing. When doing yoga, it is normally advisable to perform the postures in time with the breath. The victorious breath is the type of breathing referred to.
- Inhale, starting at the base of the lungs and filling them to the top. The chest should be fully expanded. The solar plexus, but not the belly, should be distended. Inhale evenly throughout, with the same amount of air taken in during each time span. Stop inhaling before it becomes a strain. While you are inhaling, the breath should be felt on the back of the roof of your mouth and the glottis partially closed, causing a sound like the ocean in the distance to be heard. The sound should come from the throat, not the nose. As you become practiced, visualize the breath as a white or golden light. See it entering and filling the body, with a special focus at the solar plexus.
- Hold. In the beginning, skip this step. As you become practiced, though, the hold is very important. It allows oxygen to be fully metabolized so you get the full benefit of it and the vital energy to be stored. See the light you visualized as you inhaled cleansing the body, with a special emphasis on any part that is painful or sore.
- Exhale. Again, you should feel the breath on the back of the roof of your mouth as the glottis is partially closed so that there is a sound in the throat as the ocean in the distance. As when inhaling, the sound should come from the throat, not the nose. Let the lungs empty from the top to the bottom, finishing by letting the diaphragm relax inward. The breath should be released at an even rate. As you become practiced, visualize a white or gold light ascending and filling the brain.
As with all breathing exercises, rhythm is important. In the beginning, try to have inhalation and exhalation be the same length. As you become more skilled, extend the exhalation until it is twice as long as the inhalation. As you begin to hold your breath, it should be first as long as one inhalation, then two, and gradually three then four inhalations in length. Your beginning rhythm is 1:1. Gradually you will be able to achieve a 1:4:2 rhythm. Begin with 1 to three minutes. Gradually extend this to five to ten minutes. Never strain. Never feel you have to extend the time to get that last little bit of air in or out. Don't overdo it. The object is to ventilate, not hyperventilate. It is better to be rhythmic and regular than ragged.
Use as Meditation
The victorious breath can usefully be done as a meditation in itself. The sound and focus on the breath make excellent focal points of concentration. As with the alternate nostril breathing, it induces calmness, though with a higher level of energy. The field of vision may lighten. You may feel as if your head is getting larger, though pleasantly so.
Long Term Results
If you are practicing breathing exercises on your own, these three exercises - alternate nostril breathing, the skull shine breath, and the victorious breath - can take you a long way to improving the relationship between your mind and your body as seen through an improvement in your emotional state. The process is not overnight. It can be so gradual that it is only in looking back that you can see the changes that have taken place.