We have become aware of the air we breathe as it directly affects our minds. Pollution is of grave concern, says Marcellus D’ Souza
Most of the time, we do not take much notice of our breath. Breath or prana is life — breathing is central to our existence. In Sanskrit, prana means both breath and life.
All mammals breathe. Even the ones living in water, breathe oxygen from the air. The frequency of breathing differs: larger mammals breathe less than smaller animals. In humans, adults, when resting, usually breathe about 12-20 times per minute. Over a day, that adds up to 17,000-30,000 breaths per day or more! When one exercises — or even walks around the house or school — the breathing rate goes up.
The importance of breathing is two-fold. Breathing feeds oxygen to the body and helps throw out toxins and waste. We can stay alive for long periods without eating, drinking or sleeping, but if we cannot breathe, we die within a few minutes.
The way we breathe directly affects our minds. If our breathing is short and quick, our mind becomes nervous and agitated; if our breathing is irregular, we turn anxious. When we are upset or stressed, our breathing becomes quick and shallow. Our mind will reach a state of tranquillity and calm if our breathing is deep, slow and regular. Breathing is a natural process; therefore, we need to learn how to breathe correctly.
The brain requires more oxygen than any other organ of the body. If the brain is starved of oxygen, the result is negative thoughts and depression or even vision and hearing difficulties. In fact, all organs of the body require an uninterrupted supply of oxygen. Back in 1947, research done in Germany showed that when oxygen was withdrawn, normal body cells could turn cancerous and lack of oxygen is a major cause for heart disease or stroke.
The intake of oxygen through breathing properly is critical. Yogis realised the vital importance of an adequate oxygen supply thousands of years ago. They developed and perfected various breathing techniques. The word pranayama is a combination of two Sanskrit words: prana meaning life force as in breath, and yama meaning to restrain or control the prana.
The respiratory system has many distinctive design features. We are all air hungry. Our nasal passages are a high-tech air conditioning and purification systems. They filter out the larger dust particles and microbial spores by focusing incoming air onto the mucous membrane lining the nasal cavity.
The cells of this lining secrete sticky mucous, where impurities are trapped and disposed of. The nasal passages also provide air warming and humidification, through a rich blood supply just beneath the mucous membrane. The blood supply also acts as a chemical cleanser of the air, and gives the nose design features in common with modern air-cleaning antipollution devices.
According to Shaiva scriptures, Maha Vishnu has several GarbhodakashayiVishnus in the spiritual sky (the ocean of Karana). Each Garbhodakashayi Vishnu exhales and inhales and with each breath, a Brahma is born who lives for 100 Brahma years and dies with the breath of Garbhodakashayi Vishnu. Each Brahma creates a universe which comes to an end with partial annihilation. After several Brahma years, the annihilation of the entire universe takes place at the last stage, the dissolution of the whole Karan Sagar by Shiva with Tandav and this cycle begins again.
The Bible mentions the word, ‘breathe’ 117 times. In the Book of Jobs, the Bible records: “By His breath, the heavens are cleared; His hand has pierced the fleeing serpent.” In Psalms 18:15 the Bible says, “Then the channels of water appeared, and the foundations of the world were laid bare At Your rebuke, O Lord, At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.” The most powerful image recorded in the Bible is in Genesis 2:7: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
Today, we have become aware of the air we breathe. Pollution is of grave concern. The New Delhi government has tried to curb pollution from vehicular traffic by introducing the odd-even scheme. China too has been facing grave problems with pollution in its major cities.
We cover our faces and wear masks during outbreaks of disease like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The occurrence of asthma is higher than HIV and TB in India. According to the WHO, India has an estimated 15-20 million asthmatics out of which 10 to 15 per cent are children in the age group of 5-11 years.
Asthma which is the inflammation of the air passages in the lungs affects the sensitivity of the nerve endings in the airways so they become easily irritated. In an attack, the lining of the passages swell causing the airways to narrow and reduce the flow of air in and out of the lungs.
Do we need to be afflicted by a disease or by pollution or be influenced by religious text to realise the vital importance of breath?