Note to readers: Ancient Wisdom is a series of guides that shines a light on age-old wisdom that has helped people for generations with time-honoured wellness solutions to everyday fitness problems, persistent health issues and stress management, among others. Through this series, we try to provide contemporary solutions to your health worries with traditional insights.
Some ancient practices, once lost but now rediscovered, have significantly contributed to transforming our modern wellness journey. Deep breathing, dating thousands of years back, was practiced by Yogis in India and came to be known as Pranayama. Prana means life force and yama means control. By controlling your breathing, one can not only master mind but also keep several diseases at bay. Deep breathing is more relevant in today’s world than ever before in the light of increasing stress, deteriorating air, decreased immunity and growing threat of chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, heart disease, blood pressure among a host of other health issues.
Not just India, deep breathing has been linked with health and vitality, and also as a way to connect to divine in different countries for centuries. China’s Qigong practice involved moving meditation, deep rhythmic breathing, and a calm meditative state of mind. In ancient Greece, deep breathing was called pneuma. As per Egyptians, deep breathing helped form a connection with the divine.
Deep breathing also known as diaphragmatic breathing improves oxygen flow in the body significantly which could calm nerves reducing all the stressful thoughts and anxiety symptoms. Deep breathings also helps improve release of endorphins which can naturally elevate mood. Deep breathing is also known to work wonders for your lung health. According to British Lung Foundation, deep breathing can help remove mucus from the lungs after pneumonia and allows more air to circulate. The practice can also provide a workout to your heart muscles which strengthen as a result.
In today’s edition of Ancient Wisdom, let’s discuss how this age-old practice can transform your overall health.
How deep breathing was practiced in ancient times
Deep breathing, often associated with modern wellness and mindfulness practices, has a deep history in ancient cultures. Across civilizations, deep breathing has been recognized for its potential to enhance physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
“In ancient India deep breathing was known as ‘pranayama’. In Sanskrit, ‘prana’ translates to life force, and ‘yama’ means control. Ancient Indian yogis believed that deep breathing influences the flow of vital energy throughout the body which improves physical health and mental clarity. Sutra 2.51 of Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras asserts that the fluctuations of the mind are intimately connected to the breath, and by breathing deeply, we can achieve mastery over the mind,” says Dr Hansaji Yogendra, Director of The Yoga Institute.
“In ancient China, the Daoist tradition emphasized the cultivation and balance of Qi, the vital energy that flows through the body. Deep breathing was a fundamental aspect of Daoist practices, with exercises like ‘Dao Yin’ focusing on the regulation of breath to harmonize and enhance the flow of Qi. While in ancient Greece, deep breathing was known as ‘pneuma’. Pneuma was the vital breath or life force and was believed to be the divine breath of the gods. Early Greek philosophers, like Empedocles, associated pneuma with the fundamental elements of air and fire, considering it the animating force that sustained life. In ancient Egypt, the hieroglyphic symbol for breath, ‘ankh’, represented life and immortality. The Egyptians believed that deep breathing, facilitates a connection with the Divine,” adds Dr Hansaji.
“Various indigenous cultures too practiced deep breathing. In Native American ceremonial rituals rhythmic breathing was a means to connect with Nature and the spirit world. Similarly, in the Aboriginal cultures of Australia, the concept of ‘Dadirri’ uses deep and mindful breathing, as a means of connecting with the land and ancestral wisdom,” says the Yoga expert.
Dos and don’ts while deep breathing
“The stream of breath should be always like the stream of relaxed reverse, relax in and relax out. For therapeutic purposes, Kapalbhati and Bhastrika can be sustained at a pace, but otherwise for equalizing our polarities, ha-tha, Chandra-surya, ida-pingala. Slow breathing in, slow breathing out popularly known as Anulom-vilom is of the highest order when it comes to neutralizing diseases, increasing immune response, immunoglobulins, triggering our T cells and B cells and increasing oxygen in our lungs, thus in blood, activating your brain functions and most importantly all the simple breathing exercises also can do the same,” says Dr. Mickey Mehta, Global Leading Holistic Coach.
- Deep breathing slowly through the nose and let go through the nose is ideal. If there is a stressful situation or physical exhaustion, then exhaling through the mouth happens. Breathing more deeply but not necessarily faster is known as hyperpnea. It occurs during physical activity or other demanding tasks.
- Hyperventilation, which is typically brought on by fear or stress, is rapid or deep breathing. Hypoxemia is low oxygen levels in your blood and hypoxia is low oxygen levels in your tissues. These conditions create confusion, restlessness, dizziness, or increase heart rate and should be avoided.
Breathing techniques should not stress you out, it should not create any kind of mental stress, even the temporary pace of your kapalbhati and bhastrika can be focused on releasing your mental and your emotional disturbing thoughts, hurt, pain etc.
“Do not forget the relaxed rhythm of the reverse, that is the way your breath should be. When you do shavasana, you’re in and out through the nose consciously while the stomach balloons and retreats as you breathe out is the best way of relaxing as your entire body releases all the stress into gravity,” says Dr Mehta.
Amazing benefits of deep breathing
Acharya Dr. Lokesh Muni, Founder President at Ahimsa Vishwa Bharti shares many benefits of deep breathing.
Delving into the ancient wisdom of various cultures and studies reveal that conscious and deep breathing is far more than a biological necessity. It is a gateway to physical, mental, and spiritual transformations. It creates harmony in the body and the mind in miraculous ways by:
Tapping into the divine consciousness
Deep breathing taps into divine consciousness, creating a calming effect on the mind. It helps achieve inner peace by liberating the mind from chaos and fostering mindfulness. Conscious breathwork is believed to cleanse and boosts the energy channels, aligning the individual with higher states of consciousness.
Cultivating a rational mind
Encouraging the acknowledgment and observation of feelings without judgment, deep breathing creates a space for emotional acceptance and understanding. It teaches us to respond thoughtfully rather than react impulsively.
Building a resilient heart
Deep breathing significantly boosts the immune system, relaxes the nervous system, and improves oxygen flow to the lungs, positively impacting the heart. It also helps mitigate conditions like diabetes, asthma, blood pressure, and other respiratory difficulties.
Relief in panic attacks
Deep breathing aids in alleviating panic attacks, anxiety, and depression by restoring control over breath, promoting a steady heartbeat, and triggering a relaxation response that decreases the jitters and fosters a happy and calm mind.
Promotes quicker reflexes
A composed and alert mind, facilitated by mindful breathing, creates a physiological state conducive to quick reflexes. It improves cognitive function, enabling quicker decision-making it also aids in anger management, stress management and concentration of mind.
“Regularly practicing breathing exercises improves lung capacity and overall health. Focusing on the breath is a sort of meditation that helps us calm down. It forces us to focus all of our attention on one thing, serving as a mental break from everyday stress. Breathing helps us to instantly ease anxiety and reduce stress,” says Shivani Bajwa, Founder, of YogaSutra Holistic Living, India’s Leading Functional Medicine Health Clinic.
hile the benefits of deep breathing are numerous, regular practice is essential for noticeable changes in the body. As the mind and body align, a universal language emerges—a language spoken by the body, mind, and spirit. This language whispers the profound truth that the key to a well-lived life lies in the ebb and flow of breath.
Deep breathing exercises that can help beat stress
Shivani Bajwa shares deep breathing exercises to reduce stress.
- Yoga breathing exercises for anxiety: This can be done anywhere, anytime. These are perfect morning breathing exercises. Whether you are sitting, standing, or lying down, relax your body. Bring the shoulders around the back and away from the ears. Take a moment to relax all the muscles in the face, particularly the space between the eyebrows, where we hold a lot of tension. Take deep, long breaths in through the nose to fill the lungs. Breathe out slowly through the mouth. Repeat for 10 minutes.
- Mindful breathing: Start by sitting on a chair, planting the soles of the feet firmly on the ground, sitting on the floor with your legs crossed or on your knees, or by sitting on your heels. Straighten the neck with the spine and relax the shoulders away from the ears. Place a hand on the stomach, just below the ribcage. Relax the stomach and take a deep breath through the nose. As you inhale, you’ll notice the hand move as your hand moves as your tummy expands. Breathe out slowly through the mouth, noticing the hand fall as the breath leaves the body.
Exhalation emphasis: Bring the shoulders away from the ears, relax the muscles in the face, and soften the eyelids. You can close your eyes if it’s comfortable for you. If not, you can leave them open, relaxing your eyelids. Take a slow, deep inhale through the nose without forcing anything, and exhale slowly with control through the nose. We’re trying to lengthen each exhale, making the exhales longer than the inhale.