Scientific Research on Yogic Breathing

"Yoga breathing through a particular nostril increases spatial memory scores without lateralized effects," by Naveen KV;
Nagarathna R; Nagendra HR; Telles S., of the Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation, Bangalore, India, in Psychol
Rep, 1997 Oct, 81:2, 555-61.

Abstract

Uninostril breathing facilitates the performance on spatial and verbal cognitive tasks, said to be right and left brain functions,
respectively. Since hemispheric memory functions are also known to be lateralized, the present study assessed the effects of
uninostril breathing on the performance in verbal and spatial memory tests.

School children (N = 108 whose ages ranged from 10 to 17 years) were randomly assigned to four groups. Each group
practiced a specific yoga breathing technique: (i) right nostril breathing, (ii) left nostril breathing, (iii) alternate nostril
breathing, or (iv) breath awareness without manipulation of nostrils. These techniques were practiced for 10 days. Verbal and
spatial memory was assessed initially and after 10 days. An age-matched control group of 27 were similarly assessed.

All 4 trained groups showed a significant increase in spatial test scores at retest, but the control group showed no change.
Average increase in spatial memory scores for the trained groups was 84%. It appears yoga breathing increases spatial
rather than verbal scores, without a lateralized effect.
"Pranayama increases grip strength without lateralized effects," Raghuraj P; Nagarathna R; Nagendra HR; Telles S of the
Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation, Bangalore, India, in the Indian J Physiol Pharmacol, 1997 Apr, 41:2, 129-33.  

Abstract

The present study was conducted to determine whether breathing through a particular nostril has a lateralized effect on hand
grip strength. 130 right hand dominant, school children between 11 and 18 yrs of age were randomly assigned to 5 groups.
Each group had a specific yoga practice in addition to the regular program for a 10 day yoga camp. The practices were: (1)
right-, (2) left-, (3) alternate- nostril breathing (4), breath awareness and (5) practice of mudras. Hand grip strength of both
hands was assessed initially and at the end of 10 days for all 5 groups. The right-, left- and alternate-nostril breathing groups
had a significant increase in grip strength of
both hands, ranging from 4.1% to 6.5%, at the end of the camp though without any lateralization effect. The
breath awareness and mudra groups showed no change.

Hence the present results suggest that yoga breathing through a particular nostril, or through alternate nostrils increases hand
grip strength of both hands without lateralization.
Pranayama
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                                    Pranayama - Introduction


Pranayama simply means control of breath.  

Pranayama is the 4th stage in Pathanjali's eight stage Yoga discipline. Two Sanskrit
words: Prana and Ayama are combined in one word Pranayama. Prana means life
and Ayama means control. Therefore Pranayama is the control of life.

Prana is the Energy or Life Force that is universal in nature and it is omnipresent. A
portion of that prana is present in the human body. It flows at a superficial level to
maintain the body and its organs. Ayama means expansion or stretching. When we
used the two together in word Pranayama it means the extension and control of
the breath.

Breathing is the most important function in our body but it is the most neglected
one.Learning to control our breath allows us to control our body chemistry.
Awareness and control of the breath also allows us to control our emotions.
Mastery of the breath is vital to our spiritual growth. Pranayama is a form of
breathing exercise and works as the supreme aim for spiritual awakening in yoga.  

Breath is the life force that sustains life. When the breath stops, life ends. Normal
breathing use only a fraction of our potential respiratory capacity. Pranayama helps
to control this life force in an extraordinary way to get the tremendous benefits. It
brings benefits such as increased energy and perception, and development of
various brain faculties. Pranayama purifies the channels that will carry the increased
prana to some areas of the brain. It is very important that the channels be purified
first to cope up with the increased energy created by Pranayama. The goal of
Pranayama is to increase the quantum of the Life Force (Prana) so that it can reach
out to recesses of the brain. This helps in expanding the human faculties and
retarding degeneration.

There are three thousand small pores in the lungs of a human being. By breathing
normally only 300-500 pores are utilised and therefore the immunity of our body
decreases. Harmful addictions and bad habbits make our body weak and decrease
immunity and thereby bacterial growth develops in the closed pores and increase
the chances of deseases like tuberculosis or asthma. But when you take deep
breath the closed pores get opened. As a result their efficiency increases and blood
gets pure. Your mind becomes also pure and more concentrated with practice of
pranayama. Pranayama develops memory, physical and mental strength.

Always breathe through the nose, not through the mouth with the awareness. As
you breathe in, know that you are breathing in. As you breathe out, know that you
are breathing out. This will greatly enhance your general health and well-being.
Breath is life in itself and each in-breath brings the gift of life, and each out-flowing
breath can be a natural release of tension and negativity.

The Life Force lies as dormant potential energy called the "Kundalini". It resides at a
center which is found just above the genital area, called the "Mooladhara Chakra".
This Prana flows from the  "Mooladhara" center up along the right side of the spinal
column into the center which lies at the top of the spinal column, which is called the
"Ajna Chakra". The prana gets distributed to the whole body through a different set
of nerve channels so that it reaches every atom of the body.

A Yogi measures the span of his life not by the number of years but by the number
of his breaths. Vital capacity is the capacity shown by the largest quantity of air a
person can inhale after the deepest possible exhalation. We usually take 15
breaths in a minute.This way counting the total number of breaths comes to 21,600
times per day.
Most people breathe but using only a small part of their lungs capacity. The
breathing is shallow depriving the body of oxygen and prana which leads to
disharmony in the body. The abdominal breathing called also diaphragmatic
breathing is the most natural and efficient way to breathe.

There are many reasons for using the Diaphragmatic Breathing:
With each diaphragmatic breath the abdominal organs are massaged, they are
stimulated and invigorated. This alternating squeezing and relaxing action helps
pump the blood through the organs of the abdomen, and helps in moving waste
through the intestines.

The lungs are pear shaped, with the narrow end pointing upwards. This means that
with chest breathing, only the narrow top part of the lungs are used, rather than
the larger deeper recesses accessed during diaphragmatic breathing.

Due to gravity, the lower recesses of your lungs have a richer supply of blood
pumping through them, and thus are better suited to efficient exchange of gasses
during respiration.
Less energy is required to breath with the diaphragm muscle than with the chest
muscles.
Shallow chest breathing never empties the waste products from the deep recesses
of your lungs where they accumulate and stagnate. Whenever possible breath
diaphragmatically!

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Lie down flat on your back and relax your whole body.             
Observe your spontaneous breath without controlling it for a while.  
Place your right hand on your abdomen just above the navel, and the left hand on
your chest. As you breathe try to notice whether there is more movement in the
abdomen or the chest.  
Your right hand should move up with inhalation and down with exhalation.
The left hand should not move with your breath (though, at first your chest may
move slightly).  
Try to take your breath down deeper and deeper into the lungs so that you feel the
abdomen lifting as you breath in and falling as you breath out.                                   
               
Gradually, you should notice the abdomen moving more firmly, and the chest moving
less.
As abdominal breathing becomes easier to you, try to let your breathing become
slower, deeper and smoother.
Try to relax as much as possible.
This is the breathing that you should use at all times, while at rest or at work.
Practice it until it becomes natural and unconscious.

There are 4 important aspects of Pranayama:

1. Inhalation called Pooraka
2. Exhalation called Rechaka
3. Internal Breath Retention called Antar Kumbhaka
4. External Breath Retention called Bahir Kumbhaka

The most important part of Pranayama is the breath retention called Kumbhaka.
In order to perform the breath retention correctly the practitioner must develop a
gradual control over the function of respiration. At the beginning the more emphasis
are given to inhalation and exhalation in order to strenghten the lungs and balance
the nervous system in preparation for retention of breath.

The human framework is comprised of 5 bodies called sheaths, according to Yogic
Physiology:     
1. The food & material body (Annamaya Kosha)  
2. The vital energy body (Pranamaya Kosha)
3. The mental body (Manomaya Kosha)
4. The psychic body (Vijnanamaya Kosha)
5. The transcendental body (Anandamaya Kosha)

The Annamaya Kosha is the gross physical body, which is composed of the elements
of the physical world. It consists of five elements: birth, grow, change, decay and
death.

The Pranamaya Kosha is the astral body, which is composed of the five organs of
action and five vital energies: prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana. It
experiences: hunger, thirst, cold and heat.

Prana (in this context does not refer to cosmic prana) governs the area between
the larynx and the top of the diaphragm, and it is associated with the organs of
respiration and speech. It is the force by which the breath is drawn inside. Apana is
located below the navel and provides the energy to the large intestine, kidneys,
anus and genitals. It is concerned with getting rid of waste from the body. Samana
is located between the heart and the navel. It controls the digestive system:
stomach, liver, pancreas and intentines and activates the heart and circulatory
system. It is also responsible for distribution of nutrients. Udana controls the area
above the neck. It activates the sensory receptors: eyes, nose, ears and
harmonises the limbs, their associated muscles, ligaments, nerves and joints. It is
also responsible for the erect posture. Vyana pervades the whole body. It regulates
and controls all movements and coordinates the other prana.

The Manomaya Kosha is the astral body, where anger, lust, depression, doubt,
delusion are its working. Its constituents are: the mind, knowledge and
subconscious.

The Vijnanamaya Kosha is the astral body with the function of discrimination and
decision making. It consists of intellect (which analyses) and ego.

The Anandamaya Kosha is the causal body where the joy, bliss, peace and
calmness are experienced. It consists of samskaras (subtle impressions of all lives
lived) and karma.

Prana & Lifestyle
The flow of Prana in your body is affected by your lifestyle such as physical
activities, work, sleep, food and sex. Your emotions, imagination or the thoughts
can affect the pranic body even more. The stress also deplete the pranic flow and
then you may experience being totally drained of energy.

The breath is the most vital process of your body. If a person is engaged in deep
thinking, relaxation  or meditation, the breathing will be slow and steady. If the
person is affected by negative emotions, the breathing will become fast, unsteady
and irregular.

The slow breathing is very important for increasing the human life span!

From the observation of the animals the Ancient Yogis & Rishis noticed that the
animals with slow breath rate (elephants, tortoises, pythons) have long life span
and the animals with a fast breathing rate (dogs, rabbits, birds) live only for a few
years.

A slow breathing rate keeps the heart stronger and better nourished and leads to a
longer life. By deep breathing we increase the absorption of energy, enhancing our
vitality and general wellbeing.
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