The Science of Breath – 2

It has been said that all organisms are but subsystems of the One. Our individual selves are only part of the universal self. Each organism contains all the elements present throughout the cosmos. That is why all the spiritual gurus tell us to know ourselves, in order to know and understand the cosmos.

We have been gifted with certain mechanisms that help us experience life in this world. The most important of these mechanisms are the two nostrils. You breathe from the moment you are born till the moment you die. Breath keeps a man in continuous contact with the energy in the world. It is an important part of staying healthy.

Under normal conditions, electrical activity in the brain, i.e brainwaves are concentrated more in one hemisphere than the other. What are brain waves? The brain is made of billions of brain cells called neurons, which use electricity to communicate with each other. These charges are measured in frequencies. There are 4 kinds of brainwaves, namely, Beta (13 – 40Hz), Alpha (7 – 13Hz), Theta (4 – 7Hz) and Delta  (0 – 4Hz). There is also a Gamma (>40Hz).

It is believed that at the alpha level, the brain waves of those of the right hemisphere and that of the left hemisphere are synchronised. When this happens, man is able to consciously tap the tremendous powers of knowledge hidden in the subconscious mind. So then it follows that, one should be able to cultivate a theta brain wave or to diminish the brain rhythm to alpha, when needed. How do we do this?

Research has shown that each hemisphere of the brain has certain forms of behaviour and that those forms of behaviour are present only when electrical activity centers in that hemisphere. When energy concentrates in the left hemisphere, one becomes more active, verbal, intelligent, extroverted and creative. It is also considered to be a channel of solar energy.

The right hemisphere is characterised by passivity, orientation to sights and sounds, emotional responses, introspection and is a channel of lunar energy. As a result of the movement of energy from one hemisphere of the brain to another, the nature of our responses also change. Perception, actions and even involuntary bodily responses vary according to the dominance of one hemisphere over the other.

The movement of energy from one hemisphere to the other occurs simultaneously with the change of breath from one nostril to the other. The nostrils, are connected with the neuromotor responses, and hence with the autonomic nervous system. These neuromotor responses influence the hemispheres and activity of the brain.

When we observe our breath, we notice that the breath does not come out through both nostrils in equal volume, except for very brief periods. Normally one breathes through one nostril at a time. Breath alternates between the two nostrils, according to a regular pattern. When there is airflow in the right nostril, left hemisphere of the brain dominates and viceversa. When both operate, both the hemispheres operate in unison. This happens only at certain times, for a short time. This usually happens when the transition from one nostril to the other takes place and also at dawn and dusk.

By simply changing the breath from one nostril to the other, we can change brain hemisphere dominance, thus altering chemical reaction taking place throughout the organism. Therefore control of the pattern of breath enables conscious control of body chemistry, such as pH of the blood leading to both short term and long term effects on physical and mental functioning. Most diseases are the product of body chemistry and thus can be prevented by controlling the breath.

Knowledge of the play of breath in the nostrils forms the basis of the ancient discipline of ‘Swar Yoga’ which means unification through breath, which is a topic for another day.