The Yogic Science of Breath | Pranayama Breathing Exercises

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Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from The Hindu-Yogi Science of Breath, by William Walker Atkinson, published in 1903. If you have any trouble remembering the breathing exercises covered in today’s podcast, remember that you can read the full transcript for free at our website LivingHour.org.

To breathe is to live, and without breath there is no life. Not only are we dependent upon breath for life and health, but all animal life must breathe to live, and plant life is likewise dependent upon the air for continued existence.

The new-born baby draws in a long, deep breath, retains it for a moment to extract from it its life-giving properties, and then exhales it in a long wail, and lo! its life upon earth has begun. The old senior gives a faint gasp, ceases to breathe, and life is over. From the first faint breath of the infant to the last gasp of the dying grandparent, it is one long story of continued breathing. Life is but a series of breaths.

Breathing may be considered the most important of all of the functions of the body, for, indeed, all the other functions depend upon it. A person may exist some time without eating; a shorter time without drinking; but without breathing their existence may be measured by a few minutes.

And not only are we dependent upon Breath for life, but we are largely dependent upon correct habits of breathing for continued vitality and freedom from disease. An intelligent control of our breathing power will lengthen our days upon earth by giving us increased vitality and powers of resistance. On the other hand, unintelligent and careless breathing will tend to shorten our days, by decreasing our vitality and laying us open to disease.

Humankind in its normal state had no need of instruction in breathing. Like the lower animals and the child, we breathed naturally and properly, as nature intended us to do, but civilization has changed us in this and other respects. We have contracted improper methods and attitudes of walking, standing, and sitting, which have robbed us of our birthright of natural and correct breathing. We have paid a high price for civilization.

One of the first lessons in the Yogi Science of Breath is to learn how to breathe through the nostrils, and to overcome the common practice of mouth-breathing. The organs of breathing have their only protective apparatus, filter, or dust-catcher, in the nostrils. When the breath is taken through the mouth, there is nothing from mouth to lungs to strain the air, or to catch the dust and other foreign matter in the air.

From mouth to lungs the dirt or impure substance has a clear track, and the entire respiratory system is unprotected. And, moreover, such incorrect breathing admits (during the wintertime) cold air to the organs, thereby injuring them. Inflammation of the respiratory organs often results from the inhalation of cold air through the mouth. The person who breathes through the mouth at night, always awakens with a parched feeling in the mouth and a dryness in the throat. They are violating one of nature’s laws, and sowing the seeds of disease.

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