The study of Pranayama and the art of breath control assume top priority in the yogic system, even over consideration of pure drinking water and the need for good nutrition.
This is verified by the fact that we can live even weeks without food, only hours or days without water and merely minutes without air.
The vital radiation of body energy provides our fundamental defence against disease. Known as the Pranamaya Kosha it is affected by every breath we take and to a great extent determines our state of health. The strength and quality of our vital shield determines the level of our immune system and vitality observed as first sign of good health.
But this is not as simple as just getting good quantity air and oxygen into the body with vigorous breathing rate. There are more complex and subtler factors to consider.
As consciousness and respiration are inter-related, the correction of any irregularity of the breath is inextricably interwoven with the re-adjustment of the thinking principle. Asthma therefore requires physiological and psychological attention and correction.
Human respiration naturally functions smoothly by the three cyclic processes – inhalation, retention and exhalation. In a healthy and well balanced individual this is usually an unconscious process. The first is the receptive indrawing of vitality. The second is the retention of the breath for absorption. The third is the outflow or overflow of life energy.
These three stages in respiration symbolize the fundamental three principles at work in the human psyche and can be seen as allied to receptivity and sensitivity in the first, a passive state of consciousness in the second and vital expression of energy in the third.
In the asthmatic the three physical processes are disturbed and out of balance. Inhalation
becomes in panic mode and full exhalation almost impossible. Retention is meagre and altogether the three are no longer in smooth flow as should be the case. This can be interpreted for example when the individual inhales and is receptive but is inadequate in his command over his psyche suffering from an inability to exhale and express his energies and talents, his feeling or his thoughts. In some way he is choked by his own energy intake or by his emotions and circumstances. Fear intensifies the blockage, intensifies his discomfort and the disease itself.
This is a generalization and no doubt you will be aware that there are exceptions but in all cases of asthma, a re-education programme on Yogic techniques of respiration, learning the art of relaxation in addition to any prescribed medication will provide relief as each individual learns to understand their breathing habits and adjusts them where required.
Yoga and other eastern techniques focus upon re-establishing balance between the two important electromagnetic energies that are conducted through the right and left nostrils and constitute the ‘wiring’ to each hemisphere of the brain. Nature has given us 2 nostrils instead of one big hole – not for aesthetic reasons (because it looks better) but to enable us to tune in or plug in to the electro-magnetic energies which sustain all life. In yoga these forces are called “Pingala” and “Ida” – the Chinese call them Yang and Yin or masculine and feminine. Pingala is the electric or positive force which flows through the Right nostril and is associated with the Sun as the masculine principle Ida is the magnetic or feminine energy related to the Moon. Our body temperature and functions are balanced by these energies and when they are out of balance invites disease.
Throughout the day there is a natural fluctuation – the air flowing first through one nostril, then the other – the right side heating and the left side cooling and together maintaining our bodies’ air conditioning system. The process occurs through the swelling of the delicate turbinal membranes in the nostrils, which direct the air through one side or the other. There is an interval of time where the 2 hour breath through one nostril changes over and when both nostrils are equally open. It is simple enough to check the cycle that is believed to provide brain stimulus to each hemisphere in turn. Those who are interested in astrology relate the 2 hour period to the emergence of each zodiacal sign as it rises over the horizon.
Experts in pranayama may consciously choose to be active and creative when the Right nostril prana is flowing and relax or perform quieter pursuits when the Left nostril is active although most people are too committed to outer activities to allow time for this.
Remember however, that the ideal time for meditation is when the pranas are in balance.
Asthma is a condition where the Left side has been overactive, sometimes for years and the alternating rhythm has not functioned as it should. This rhythm has been interfered with by the mind, emotions and attitudes of the individual or by catarrh and nasal congestion and the results of pollution which of course affects it. The polarity of positive and negative energies will be adjusted again when the Right nostril becomes more active
and a remedial programme observed such as the following example…
There is a correct procedure for practising breathing exercises.
Clear the nostrils
Clear the nostrils with cold or tepid water by gently sniffing through the nose using the traditional technique called Neti using a special pot designed to pour water in one nostril and out the other. Alternatively, splash the nose externally with cold water should one or both nostrils be blocked by mucous making this impossible.
Friction on bridge of nose
This is done by the thumb and the forefinger of the one hand and using a fairly firm pressure for about ½ a minute’s duration. This can be followed by a gentle manipulation either side of the septum with pressure first from the thumb, then the finger alternately.
Check both nostrils are clear
Seated in upright position.
In the case of a blocked Right nostril often found in asthma, the clenched Right hand is placed under the opposite armpit with the knuckles of the hand pressing onto the pressure point. This causes a tingling of the Left hand – into the fingers. This pressure is maintained for a few breaths before releasing when generally the Right nostril will be found to be open. Sometimes 3 breaths are sufficient, sometimes up to about 20 breaths are necessary before this occurs. Those suffering nasal and sinus congestion are the exception and will have to persevere with natural diet and other health measures before expecting results.
Alternate Breathing Exercise
This exercise can only be performed when both nostrils are reasonably free as it involves intake of air through one nostril at a time and then is simple enough. The technique should best be demonstrated by a teacher but begins by blocking the Right nostril with the thumb and inhaling through the Left. A pause follows with both nostrils blocked by thumb and fingers and exhalation flows out through the Right nostril ready to reverse by inhalation through the Right and pausing before exhaling through the Left. This constitutes the cycle that is repeated many times.
First relax the abdominal muscles and think of them as you apply a series of short, shallow breaths of about ½ second to inhalation and ½ second exhalation.
Gentle breathing with focus upon the abdominal muscles applies a comfortable equal rhythm such as 3 counts in and 3 counts out. Gradually increase the count as you are able but avoid straining.
This is simply inhaling to a regular count, starting with say 3 counts in and 3 out and increasing the rhythm as you are inclined according to your ease and ability. Follow this rhythmic breathing for a few minutes.
Exercise with longer Exhalation ( 1-2 breath)
This exercise should be maintained for a few minutes inhaling to 3 counts and doubling the count by exhaling to 6. The count is gradually lengthened (6 counts in and 12 counts out etc). to the point of discomfort – no straining.
Bandhas – known as “Locks’
From upright position. The practice of each of the three bandhas can be helpful but particular attention to the Uddiyana bandha to reduce tension around the solar plexus and the Jalandhara bandha to release any muscular tension around thyroid and neck areas by dropping the chin downward towards the chest and followed after a few seconds, by a gentle muscular release as the position of the head returns to upright.
These should be demonstrated by the teacher.
Inhalation of the fragrance of Essential Oil
The olfactory sense known as Gandha Tanmatra is vitally important in regard to respiration and also to assist aspiration when in meditation. Selection of a specific essential oil for inhalation of perfume is greatly helpful not only to encourage deeper respiration but for direct therapeutic action of the vapour upon the membranes. Peppermint oil has an intensely clean effect, as does Eucalyptus – whatever essential oil is used it should be a pleasant experience. It is important to be aware that only pure essential oils should be used and although they may be expensive, their use is economical enough when only a drop or two is used. Some choose to place a drop onto a tissue. Others apply it to the chest or hands or to use the vaporizer to inhale warm fumes.
Relaxation – Spinal Massage – Nutrition – Herbal remedies – there are many natural aids to use in developing a positive programme that accepts the need for both physical and psychological healing measures used in general health practices. All have the potential to contribute and relieve asthma as well as correction through body postures or yogic Asanas.