Ayurveda Sadhana PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Dr. Marc Halpern   

Part 3: The Sadhana Of Optimal Breathing

Respiratory diseases have become so common that everyone is likely to experience some form of breathing difficulty within a given year. Whether the symptoms are related to the common cold, respiratory infection or something more chronic such as allergies and asthma, or more serious such as emphysema or lung cancer, few people escape a twelve-month period without some form of breathing challenge. The respiratory system is a very sensitive area of our body, highly exposed to the outside world and prone to a myraid of challenges. Proper care of the respiratory system can reduce the frequency and intensity of the symptoms and imbalances experienced. When a broader program to maximize health and well-being is implemented, it is possible to minimize or completely avoid most of these conditions.

According to Ayurveda, the digestive system and the mind are where the roots of disease begin. Disease then spreads to the tissues and takes hold in whichever tissues are weakened. Some people have an inherant weakenss in the respiratory system and may find themselves with chronic challenges. When the respiratory system is properly cared for, those tissues become a less attractive site for imbalances to take hold and thus disease is prevented. If disease is already present, proper care of the system is an important part of supporting the healing process.

The sadhana of optimal breathing defines the actions that maintain health of the respiratory system. Three primary practices are: neti, nasya and abdominal breathing. Other techniques are identified within Ayurveda and Yoga but the aforementioned three are the most basic and important. When performed regularly and properly, you can be assured of fewer respiratory challenges, your body and mind will be more relaxed and life itself will be more inspired.

Practices to Optimize the Respiratory System Health

Neti is the practice of nasal irrigation. When neti is properly practiced, the nasal passages and sinuses are washed and then lightly oiled. Washing the nasal passages removes dirt, dust, allergens and pathogens. While the nose has its own mechanism of cilia (nasal hairs) that play a protective and cleansing role, cilia themselves are often unable to adequately provide complete protection. Neti improves the end result reducing allergies and infections that create mucus and swelling allowing for easier breathing.

small tea-pot like device

Neti is practiced using a small tea-pot like device that is now available at many drug stores as well as Yoga and Ayurvedic centers or online. Warm (body temperature) salt water (salty like your tears as opposed to salty like the ocean) is added to the pot and the pot is then tipped into the nasal passage. The warm salt water is allowed to enter the nasal passage and fill the sinuses and then exit from the opposite nasal passage. It is not as difficult as it may look or sound. Success is simply a matter of finding the proper head position, keeping the mouth open and relaxing.

Following irrigation, place a small amount of sesame oil onto the little finger and then massage it in the nasal passage. The oil provides an additional barrier and protection while enhancing the absorption of prana.

One of the hidden benefits of practicing neti is that it awakens the mind and senses. After practicing, you will feel more awake, alert and better able to focus. This is believed to be due to removing obstructions to the flow of prana through the subtle body.

Nasya is the practice of dropping herbal oil into the nasal passages and breathing it quickly and deeply into the sinuses. Only a small amount of herbal oil is placed in the nostril, usually a few drops to half a teaspoon. This fantastic practice can be performed to either cleanse the passages or build their tone and strength. Nasya is indicated for any imbalances from the neck up and it is considered to be the best treatment for imbalances of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth and even for the brain and nervous system. Depending upon the herbal oil (or combination) used it can pacify any of the three doshas. Ayurvedic practitoners utilize this practice as a part of panchakarma (seasonal cleansing) but it can also be used as a home practice. If you have chronic sinusitis or sinus headaches secondary to allergies this practice can be performed daily until symptoms improve and then once or twice each week as a preventative measure.

In order to practice this, you will need nasya oil, which can be found in the office of many Ayurvedic practitioners; ask a qualified practitioner for a specific recommendation. When performing nasya, you will need to lie down and hyperextend your neck (use a rolled towel or pillow under your neck or gently allow your head extend off the end of your bed). Tilt your head back to avoid having the oil asperate into your lungs or drip into your throat. Once you have inhaled the oil into your nasal passages, rest, allowing the oil to absorb for the next fifteen minutes. If you get up too quickly, some oil may drip into your throat which is not desirable. It can be helpful to sip some herbal tea following the practice in case some oil does enter the throat.

If this practice is attractive to you, you may wish to have a more formal nasya treatment from a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist or other qualified practitioner. A formal treatment is performed in the office of the practitioner and is much deeper and more effective as it incorporates facial massage and steam therapy to dilate the nasal passages and sinuses.

Abdominal Breathing
Abdominal breathing is the natural manner in which a person breathes when they are relaxed and the mind is unencumbered by the stresses of life. As stress builds, the abdomen and diaphragm become tense. A tense abdomen makes it more difficult for the diaphragm to fully descend on inhalation. As a result, the muscles of the middle and upper rib cage become more engaged. Breathing from the middle and upper chest disturbs the flow of both air and prana affecting both the respiratory system and the mind respectively. This pattern is called emotional breathing and reveals the link between breath and emotion, body and mind. When the breath is disturbed, it becomes shallow and less air is exchanged in each breath. Reduced circulation of air contributes to congestion. The emotions related to the alteration of breath contribute to the constricted airways of asthma. Often, emotional breathing becomes a way of life as emotional patterns are deeply engrained. In order to restore abdominal breathing, it is often necessary to relearn how to breathe. Yoga and Ayurvedic teachers can assist you with this. At home you can try the following exercise. Lie down on your back and deeply relax. Place a book on your belly and with every breath in, allow your abdomen to relax and expand raising the book toward the ceiling. With every breath out observe how the book descends. Let this become a form of meditation for a few minutes each day until the natural pattern is restored.

Dr. Marc Halpern is the founder and president of the California College of Ayurveda (ayurvedacollege.com) and co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (ayurveda-nama.org) and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (ayurveda-caam.org). He is also a yogi in the lineage of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnu Devananda. Look for his new book, Healing Your Life: Lessons on the Path of Ayurveda this fall on Lotus Press. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by calling (866) 541 - 6699.

Ayurveda Resources

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