Intentional breathing is not new to the ancient healing worlds of India and Tibet. Swara Yoga, which was developed in India provides a methodology of breathing that is now supported by modern science. The discovery that we breathe out of one dominant nostril, switching nostril-dominance every few hours, was credited in 1895 to the German physician Richard Kayser, whereas Swara yoga taught this fact several thousand years ago.
We all know that taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly has a calmative effect, and more recently, Polyvagal theorist, Stephen Porges was able to show how breathing out engaged our ventral vagal system, which is the part of our parasympathetic nervous system that slows our heart beat and relaxes us.
Sundar Balasubramania, a cell biologist, discovered after several studies that the practice of a yogic breathing practice, increased the amount of nerve-growth factor and number of proteins found in the saliva of practitioners compared to the control group. The finding that regulated breathing can trigger a cascade of chemical responses, has tremendous implications for removing carcinogenics and reducing stress and chronic pain, as Blasubramania explains.
Meanwhile the ancient Tibetan practice of Tummo, or inner fire, allows practitioners to manipulate their immune system by flooding the body with trapped oxygen, increasing alkalinity and subsequently reducing inflammation. Western medicine was clueless to the fact that humans were able to manipulate their auto-immune responses in this way, until a Dutch man named Wim Hoff subjected himself to clinical scrutiny and proved it once and for all.
In the West, we don’t usually think of breathing as an intentional act because we are discouraged from appreciating that our breath is our vital force. In the East, however, the connection of the brain and mind through the breath has been acutely understood and leveraged for thousands of years.
What’s also interesting is the esoteric value of the breath in mind management practices, such as those taught in the Hawaiian shamanic tradition and Tibetan Bon, for example.
The concept of “the breath of life,” that a practitioner gives to an idea, a vision or a thought, in their effort to bring it about, is one of those esoteric values centered on the breath that are used in Bon and Hawaiian shamanism. Perhaps the way it works is that breath when used properly, also helps us program our unconscious minds, so that we may act and feel in a way that is in alignment with our desired outcomes.
While how these “breaths of life” actually work (if they work at all) is still a mystery, it is interesting to note their existence in light of emerging research on how our breathing helps us intentionally change our physiological states. And just to help illustrate how breath is used esoterically, here is an exercise suggested by Bon medicine doctor, Christopher Hansard:
If you are prepared to share what you have, it is your right to have what you need, indeed to have more than you need. If at the end of your life you have great wealth and do not share it, you create deep mental obstructions that diminish your happiness before you die.
Good fortune waits within the forces of your unconscious mind so the world of money and abundance responds to this cycle of breathing. You must be ready for it, though, because it can have a more lethal effect upon your mind and emotions than fame. You will only keep it if your heart is also abundant in love and generosity.
Sitting quietly with your eyes closed, breathe in and out. Clap your hands together as loud as you can to purify the atmosphere around you. Focus on breathing slowly for a few moments, then in your mind’s eye see your inner breathing drawing up wealth and abundance from within you. As you breathe out, direct these out into the world as raw energy. It will automatically come back to you, like a boomerang. To end the meditation, say quietly but firmly out loud, ‘I thank the world, I thank all things, I thank my awakening good fortune.’ Clap your hands loudly and slowly three time and, if you wish, bow to north, south, east and west and then to the ground beneath your feet.