No matter what anybody else tells you, yogic breathing typically occurs through the nose, both during inhalation and exhalation. For traditional yogis and yoginis, the mouth is meant for eating and the nose for breathing. We know at least three good reasons for breathing through the nose:
✓ It slows down the breath because you're breathing through two small openings rather than the one big opening in your mouth, and slow is good in Yoga.
✓ The air is hygienically filtered and warmed by the nasal passages. Even the purest air contains, at the least, dust particles and, at the worst, all the toxic pollutants of a metropolis.
✓ According to traditional Yoga, nasal breathing stimulates the subtle energy center — the so-called ajna-cakra (pronounced ah-gyah-chuk-rah) located near sinuses in the spot between the eyebrows. This very important location is the meeting place of the left (cooling) and the right (heating) current of vital energy (prana) that act directly on the nervous and endocrine systems. (For the two currents, see the "Alternate nostril breathing" section later in this chapter.)
Folk wisdom teaches that every rule has its exception, which is definitely the case with the yogic rule of breathing through the nose. A few classical yogic techniques for breath control require you to breathe through the mouth. When we present a mouth-breathing technique, we alert you to that fact.
What if I can't breathe through my nose?
Some folks suffer from various physiological conditions that prevent them from breathing through their noses. Of course, Yoga is flexible. If you have difficulty breathing when lying down, try sitting up. The time of day can also make a difference in your ability to breathe. For example, you may be more congested or exposed to more allergens in the morning than in the afternoon. You, of course, can detect the differences.
If you're still not sure how to settle on a comfortable breathing method, first try inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth and, failing this, just breathe through your mouth and don't worry for now. Worry is always counterproductive.
How about breathing through my nose all the time?
Many Americans participate in more than one kind of physical activity or exercise discipline. Each has its own guidelines and rules for breathing, which we suggest you follow. For example, the majority of aerobic activities — running, walking, weight lifting, and so on — recommend that you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. The reason: You need to move a lot of air quickly in and out of your lungs. And breathing only through the nose while swimming can be very dangerous. In fact, we don't recommend underwater pranayama unless you enjoy a snootful of water making its way to your lungs.
^ In the beginning, save yogic breathing for your Yoga exercises. Later, when you become more skillful at it, you may want to adopt nasal breathing during ir^ll all normal activities. You can then benefit from its calming and hygienic effects y^^f throughout the day.
When you pay close attention to the rhythm of your breath, you may be surprised to notice that it has several parts. According to Yoga, the four aspects of controlled breathing are:
✓ Inhalation (puraka, pronounced poo-rah-kah)
✓ Retention or holding after inhalation (antar-kumbhaka, pronounced ahn-tahr-koom-bhah-kah)
✓ Exhalation (recaka, pronounced reh-chah-kah)
✓ Retention or holding after exhalation (bahya-kumbhaka, pronounced bah-yah-koom-bhah-kah)
In this book, we emphasize exhalation. Some classical Yoga authorities also refer to a type of retention that occurs spontaneously and effortlessly in some higher states of consciousness. This retention is known as kevala-kumbhaka (pronounced keh-vah-lah-koom-bhah-kah), or absolute retention.
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