The Relationship Between Breathing And The Brain
In Bon medicine and in select Tibetan Buddhist meditations, the use of breath is a strategic element of healing practices. Controlled breathing is not new to the ancient healing worlds of India and Tibet. In fact, there is an entire body of knowledge known as Swara Yoga that is essentially a “science of breathing.”
From ancient practices and western medicine
For many years, I felt a strong affinity with these traditions and practices, but I was not aware that the knowledge they had divined preceded western medicine for thousands of years. For example, the discovery that we breathe out of one dominant nostril, switching nostril-dominance every few hours, is credited in the Western canon to a German physician named Richard Kayser in 1895, whereas Swara yoga understood this fact several thousand years ago.
Meanwhile, the 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 and triggering immune responses. Western medicine was clueless to the fact that we are able to manipulate our autoimmune system, or else, the parasympathetic nervous system in this way, until a Dutchman named Wim Hoff, the famous “iceman,” subjected himself to clinical scrutiny and proved it once and for all.
Breathing as intentional
We all know that taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly has a calmative effect, but we may not know what Dr. Sundar Balasubramania, a cell biologist, discovered after a clinical trial. And that is, the practice of a Pranayama breathing exercise, as taught by a yogi named Thirumoolar (and discovered by Balasubramania) increased the amount of nerve growth factor and number of proteins found in the saliva of those who practiced the breathing technique, as opposed to the control group which did not practice.
Such a finding, that our breathing can trigger a cascade of chemical responses, has tremendous implications for removing carcinogens, regulating autoimmune responses, reducing stress and chronic pain. We don’t usually think of breathing as an intentional act because we live in a world where we are discouraged from appreciating that our breath is our vital force.
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