In general, all human beings depend on three things for sustainability: air, food and water.
In October 2006, a Japanese man, Mitsutaka Uchikoshi, was found barely alive at Mount Rokko after getting lost on his descent.  He had gone 24 days without food and water, both basic necessities for our survival. In another extremity, freediver Stig Severinsen previously held his breath for 22 minutes in 2012.  It is a record that I believe most of us will not even think of attempting. These examples clearly show that more than anything else, we need air to survive.
Oxygen is our life force; we need it to fuel our cells. And breathing is one of the most significant functions of the body, a brilliant act of our respiratory system which we unconsciously perform and take for granted every day. In yoga, we are taught Pranayama techniques (breathing exercises) to strengthen and improve our breathing.
Pranayama is the art of expanding our life force; to make the unconscious act of breathing, conscious. This post briefly lists a few of the more common techniques and how they benefit our respiratory system.
Ujjayi breathing calls for us to inhale into our lungs instead of our bellies. It focuses on the expansion of our lungs, where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide. Here, we take in deeper and longer, but equal, breaths, increasing our oxygen intake. When incorporated in our asana practice, we consciously keep our breaths deep and steady, strengthening our overall respiratory system.
Anulom-Vilom and Nadi Shodana are techniques where breathing is done only through one nostril, which is alternated. Regular practice of this Pranayama teaches us to bring our breathing mechanism under our control. As someone with sinus problems, practicing this every morning has helped to clear blocked nostrils. With the increase of oxygen intake, I am able to start the day with a clear and calm mind.
Bhastrika resembles the blowing of bellows, which is what the word means in Sanskrit. It helps to increase our oxygen intake to our bodies, and its forceful exhalations strengthen the lungs and diaphragm, expel excess carbon dioxide and awaken our bodies.
Daily practice of Pranayama enhances the quality of our techniques and allow us to fully reap the benefits of these breathing exercises. May we become physically, mentally and spiritually stronger with the practice of Pranayama!
200Hr YTT (Vinyasa Flow), Weekend (Sep 2015)