The breath is something we deal with, usually unconsciously, from the moment we pop out into this world grasping at the air with a fresh little set of lungs until we whisper our final goodbyes. Without even thinking about it we go about our lives and the breath comes and goes regulated by sensors in the brain telling the lungs when to breathe deeper to get a bit more oxygen or when to slow down or even when to breathe a bit faster1. It is common knowledge in the world of yoga, however, that we can to some degree bypass this automatic breathing and have with controlled breathing an enormous effect on how we feel both mentally and physically.
The importance of quality breathing is no longer confined to just the yoga world, it is now widely recognised amongst some mainstream medical professionals. In 2006 Jerath and a team of research colleagues validated that diaphragmatic yoga breathing techniques have a positive effect on the function of the immune system, hypertension, asthma and stress-related disorders2. As far back as 1990 when Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was only just starting to be realised as something other than a psycho-somatic illness (in other words áll in the mind’), research reported in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine by SD Rosen and team3 found that CFS can be the result of chronic habitual over breathing.
The simplest and most effective way to affect our health and breathing is to breathe deep down into the bottom of the lungs. Technically what is happening is that on the inward breath the diaphragm which is our main breathing muscle, tightens and moves downwards towards the abdominal area. This creates more room in the lungs so air is automatically drawn in. With controlled breathing we consciously bring the breath deep down by relaxing the abdominal muscles on the inward breath. In response to this the abdomen expands slightly hence the term ‘belly breathing’.
At the base of the lungs is a nerve of primary importance to our health. It is called the vagus nerve. When we stimulate this nerve via the deep belly breath a substance called acetylcholine is released. This substance is responsible for memory and learning, it is also calming and relaxing and new research has found that it is a major player in preventing inflammation which is thought to be a reaction to stress and a major player in many illnesses4. Exciting new research has also found evidence of how stimulating the vagus nerve can activate our stem cells to repair and rebuild our organs5.
All this research confirms what the yoga tradition has always known – yoga breathing is very important for great health!
As important as breathing is, it remains a temporary fix to a troubled mind. For optimalhealth we also need peace of mind. The easiest and most beneficial way to obtain this peace is through the practice of meditation. We place our mind on a transcendental sound vibration and that sound has the power to transport us to a place beyond the struggles of this world to a region of calmness, peace and joy. Gauranga breathing employs both the breath and the meditation. It’s a wonderful method of calming our nervous system, regaining our health and discovering real spiritual insights into the nature of the self, the nature of this world and the nature of love, peace and joy.
How Meditate with Gauranga Breathing
Sit, stand or lie down. Place your hands on your abdomen, as you breathe in relax your abdomen and feel it expanding. Fill up into your rib cage and up to the top of your lungs and slowly exhale gently contracting your abdomen. On the next outward breath slowly say out loud the Gauranga Mantra. Divide it into four syllables GAUR – RA – ANGA – GA (phonetically gore – rar – ung – gar). Empty your lungs completely and start the inward breath again by relaxing the abdomen and filling up from the bottom to the top. As you breathe in you can say the mantra quietly on your mind and then out loud again on the outward breath.
Keep meditating like this for 2 – 5 minutes and then rest quietly and feel the wave of calmness that has flowed over you.
Guided relaxation and Gauranga Meditation is available for you to practice with on the net.
Guided Meditation http://asmy.org.au/videos-music/
Mindfulness Gauranga Breath Meditation https://soundcloud.com/ashrayaband
1Guz, A. (1997). Brain, breathing and breathlessness. Respiration Physiology. 109, 197-204.
2Jerath, R., Edry J.W, Barnes, V.A., and Jerath, V. (2006). Medical Hypothesis, 67, 566-571.
3J R Soc Med. 1990 Dec; 83(12): 761–764.
4Sloan, R. P., et al. 2007. RR interval variability is inversely related to inflammatory markers: The CARDIA study. Mol Med 13 (3-4):178-84.
5Theise, N.D., and R. Harris. 2006. Postmodern biology:(adult) (stem) cells are plastic, stochastic, complex, and uncertain. Handb Exp Pharmacol (174):389-408.