Science of Breath – 1

Life is actually a series of breaths, that starts with birth and ends with death. To live is to breathe. The correct form of breathing not only leads to good physical health but it also increases one’s mental power, happiness, self control, clarity in thinking and even one’s spiritual growth. Hence it is very important to understand how breath works.

A person who is able to control his breath, will be able to control his body and mind. The yogis of ancient times were able through breathing practices, to store prana in their body and send it to any organ or part, thus strengthening and invigorating that part.

Oxygen, is needed by every cell in our body in order to live. The air that we breathe contains oxygen.  In the lungs, the oxygen moves into the bloodstream and this purified and oxygenated blood is carried to the heart and to different parts of the body through arteries and capillaries. At each cell in the body, the oxygen cells are exchanged for waste gas called carbon dioxide. The bloodstream then carries this waste gas back to the lungs where the waste gas is removed from the blood and then exhaled from the body.

It follows that unless fresh air in sufficient quantities reaches the lungs, the impure stream of venous blood cannot be purified. Thus, not only is the body robbed of its nourishment but the waste products which should have been destroyed are returned to the circulatory system thus poisoning it, instead of invigorating and strengthening it.

The normal human being invariably breathes in a shallow way, in which, only a portion of lung is used and a large portion of the lung capacity is lost, as a result of which, the blood does not get completely purified. Once we understand that ‘prana’ (life force energy) comes from the air we breathe, it makes sense to learn the correct way of breathing, so that we live a life full of vitality.

What is Prana?

‘Prana’ is absolute energy which exists everywhere. It is considered to be the essence of all forms of life – from the highest to the lowest. Fresh air is the greatest source of prana. The easiest way of getting prana is by inhaling it along with air. This is where breath and the way we breathe plays an important role in  nourishing both mind and body. With the correct form of breathing, we can control and regulate breathing. We will be able to extract a greater supply of prana, which is stored in the brain and nervous system, to be used when necessary.

What is the correct form of breathing?

The correct form of breathing according to Yogi Ramacharaka, is also called the complete breath. First of all, always breathe through the nose, and not through the mouth. The mouth is not equipped to cleanse the air and change the temperature of the air you are breathing in. The nostrils filter the air we breathe and also warm it, so that it can do no damage to the delicate respiratory organs.

The best method of breathing according to Yogi Ramacharaka is one where the entire respiratory apparatus, – every part of the lung, every cell, every respiratory muscle is brought into play. In the Yogi complete breathing method, “the respiratory muscles are fully called into play…… The muscles controlling the ribs are used in such a way that, it increases the space in which the lungs can expand.”

The maximum benefit is derived with minimum energy expended. In such a breathing, the chest cavity is expanded to its normal limits in all directions and every part works and performs the functions it is supposed to.

To Eat or Not to Eat – A Potato

 

health benefits of potatoesThe potato though much loved is also a much maligned vegetable, due to its high glycemic index and its tendency to make people obese. Here are some things you should know about a potato.

Potatoes originated in the Andean mountain region of South America. It was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers. At first it was not widely consumed, as it belonged to the night shade family, of which some species are poisonous. It is said that the potato promoted economic development by helping the industrial revolution in England. It was so easy to cultivate and provided ample calories, thus liberating workers from the land and provided labour for the new factories. Today it is one of the most popular vegetables throughout the world. In October 1995 the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space, to help feed astronauts on long space voyages.

The potato is a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, copper, potassium, manganese and dietary fibre. It contains a variety of phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity.

Health benefits of Potato

The potato is a very good source of B6. Vitamin B6 helps a lot of systems in our body like cardiovascular, digestive, immune, muscular and nervous system. It is very critical for new cell formation. It protects the heart and plays a very important role in brain cell and nervous system activity. The B6 vitamin is needed to make the hormone serotonin and norepinephrine, which affect mood. Thus eating potatoes may help with depression and stress.

The vitamin C in potatoes acts as an antioxidant.  Antioxidants protect us against damage caused by harmful molecules, as well as toxic chemicals and pollutants. Vitamin C protects us from immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and eye diseases.

Many of the beneficial phytochemicals in potatoes are contained in the potato skin, which is also the primary source of dietary fibre. Potato has both soluble and insoluble fibre. Potatoes are rich in fibre, but only when eaten with the skin.

Kukoamine, a compound found in potatoes, is said to have blood pressure lowering compounds. UK scientists have identified previously unknown compounds in the potato that are also found in a herbal used to lower blood pressure. Potatoes also contain potassium which acts as a vasodilator and reduces blood pressure. It is said to have more potassium than a banana.

Potatoes contain cartenoids, flavanoids and caffeic acid. A flavonoid-rich diet has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer, cardio-vascular disease and other chronic diseases. One of the key flavonoids in potatoes is quercetin, which has been linked to a lower risk of asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.

In spite of having all these health benefits, most of us do not absorb the nutrients because of the way it is cooked. Much of the nutrients in a potato is in the skin. Potassium, a mineral that helps lower blood pressure is found in the skin of the potato. It is also a good source of fibre.

Potatoes should be baked or steamed to retain most of its nutrients. Baking is the best. Boiling and cooking a peeled potato leads to loss of nutrients as most of the water soluble nutrients like B-complex vitamins, vitamin C and potassium leach out into the water that is used for boiling it. If you do want to boil it, it makes sense to use the water in a soup or as a stock for cooking. Also, do not leave the chopped peeled potatoes to soak for long.

According to forbes.com, “Storing potatoes in the fridge can increase the amount of acrylamide that forms when they’re cooked.” Keep potatoes outside the refrigerator in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry. The FDA suggests soaking potato slices in water for 15-30 minutes before cooking to reduce the amount of acrylamide that will form.”

Health risks of Potato

Potato is a nutrient-rich complex carbohydrate and plays an important role in a healthy diet. Starches usually take longer to digest, so in most complex carbohydrates they don’t cause a boost in blood sugar. But unfortunately, the starch in potatoes is easier to break down and digest than many other starches and hence, the carbohydrates in potatoes are digested very rapidly by the body thus causing rapid spikes in blood sugar. While healthy individuals can tolerate them in moderation, the rapid rise in blood sugar can lead to increased insulin production, which is why diabetics are discouraged from eating potatoes.

Because of this rise and fall in blood sugar, people may also tend to feel hungry soon, leading to over eating. Eating with the skin helps, as it is high in fibre. Soluble fibre becomes gel-like in the stomach, which fills you up and helps you feel full longer.

It has been recommended by some nutritionists to replace grains with potatoes and to not use potato as the only vegetable on your plate along with grains. Even when you cook potato in a healthy way, it can lead to health problems in persons with obesity or diabetes. Hence it makes sense to not make it unhealthy by frying it and adding butter or cheese to it.

Caution

If the potatoes are sprouting, you should cut out the eyes and the sprout before cooking the potato.

Potatoes turn green when they have too much exposure to light. Never eat potatoes that are spoiled or have turned green below the skin as they are poisonous.

Potatoes should also not be stored around onions because both vegetables emit natural gases that cause the other to decay.

Studies have shown that potatoes, which cooked above 120 degrees C or 248 degrees F, produce a chemical known as acrylamide. This compound, has been found to play a role in the development of several cancers, and and may also have negative effects on genes and reproductive health. Fried potato products, such as potato chips and French fries, are high in acrylamides.  “Decreasing cooking time, blanching potatoes before frying, and postdrying (drying in a hot air oven after frying) have been shown to decrease the acrylamide content of some foods” says the website, cancer.gov

Potato is a good source of potassium. However high levels of potassium in the body is not good for those with kidney problems, as the kidneys may not be able to filter excess potassium from the blood. This could be fatal.

Knowing both the benefits and risks, help us choose food wisely. Since the overall eating pattern is very important in achieving good health, we should eat a diet with a variety of foods, instead of  depending on individual foods to keep us healthy.