People can live for many days – even weeks – without food; only a few days without water; and but only minutes without breathing. But inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide are just the beginning. How fast or slow, how deep or shallow, and how we direct the breath can all improve or diminish the health and well-being of the body and mind. It is said in the ancient yoga texts that the life span of a human being is not measured in years, but in the number of breaths each of us is destined to breathe. Slowing the breath can therefore increase vitality and aid in longevity.
Most people do not use the full capacity of their lungs when inhaling; this limits the amount of oxygen (and thus Prana or Chi, which are almost synonymous) taken in. And since every cell in the body requires oxygen to function, every function and system of the body, including the mind, will work better by breathing to one’s full lung capacity. Regularly practicing exercises which involve regulated and deep breathing is just as important for health as exercises which stretch and strengthen the muscles. Additionally, the intake of the subtle elements via the breath directly promote mental acuity and calmness and such results can be experienced immediately, and are long lasting and cumulative. It is important to inhale through the nose; in some forms of breathing exhaling through the mouth is directed but generally exhaling should also be via the nose. It is important to remember that full exhalation is just as important as inhalation.
Air quality is also very important – there is much more Chi or Prana in fresh clean air than in polluted or stale air. Breathing deeply close to rivers, streams, waterfalls , the ocean, around trees and plants, after a rainfall or thunderstorm increase health, and if we don’t have access to these environments often, using a home air purifier can be very helpful. Additionally, we should be careful to stay away from air pollution which can also include all kinds of industrial or household chemicals, perfumes, cigarette smoke and the like.