Before you jump right in and make drastic changes to your method of breathing, take a few minutes to assess your current breathing style. You may find it helpful to keep a log of your breathing habits over the course of a couple of days, noting how your breathing changes in accordance with the situations around you and your states of mind. Check your breathing by asking yourself the following questions:
✓ Is my breathing shallow (my abdomen and chest barely move when I fill my lungs with air)?
✓ Do I often breathe erratically (my breathing rhythm isn't harmonious)?
✓ Is my breathing labored at times?
✓ Do I hold my breath in stressful situations?
✓ Do I generally breathe too fast?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, you make an ideal candidate for yogic breathing. Even if you didn't answer yes, practicing conscious breathing still benefits your mind and body.
The Yoga scriptures state that humans take an average of 21,600 breaths per day. This number, which falls within the range accepted by modern research, is profoundly symbolic. Here's why: 21,600 is one-fifth of 108,000. The number 108, or multiples of it, is charged with special significance in India. The importance relates to the astronomical fact that the distance between the sun and the earth is 108 times greater than the sun's diameter. The symbolism is represented in the 108 beads of the rosary used by many Yoga practitioners in India. A full round on the rosary is a symbolic journey from the earth to heaven — that is, from ordinary consciousness to higher consciousness. And even the one-fifth is significant; 5 is the number associated with the air element. This correlation is one of many that Yoga masters profess between the human body-mind and the universe at large.
Men take an average of 12 to 14 breaths per minute, and women take 14 to 15. Breathing at a markedly faster pace — usually associated with chest breathing — qualifies as hyperventilation, which leads to carbon dioxide depletion (your body needs some of this gas to maintain the right acid-alkaline balance of the blood).
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