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Breathing as a High-Yield Practice for Health & Happiness

Dr. Aditi Dave, associate professor of medicine and meditation instructor, shares how breathing can be a high-yield practice for greater health and happiness. Stay tuned for our next email, where together we explore a breathing technique, which puts this principle into practice.


I think the easiest way in this day and age to get into really creating a calm mind and a happy state is through the breath. Now, we all know that there’s a link between the mind and breath. You know if you look at common sayings, one of the first things people say when someone’s upset is “Calm down, take a deep breath.” So it’s innate, that we know that taking a deep breath can have an effect on someone being upset.

So, if we take a look at this mind, breath, body connection, you’ll find that whenever the mind is in a certain emotional state. Say, for example, there’s a fear state. What happens to the breath? It changes, you know. If I am going down the highway and someone cuts me off, my breath will either be held, or I will start breathing really fast and shallow, and that’s a universal shift that happens no matter who you are, no matter where you are on the globe. And in fact, what we spend very little attention on is that this is not a one-way street. The state of your emotions doesn’t just dictate what happens to the breath. The breath itself, if we understood how to use it, we could use this knowledge to affect the quality of our emotions.

So this is a two-way street. Now, we haven’t really learned all there is to the breath. On a physiologic level, we know how important it is to breathe. But what is really powerful about the breath is that it is the one system that, whether you are aware of it or not, it is in the present moment. Do you know that you can’t really breathe in the past or the future? You can only breathe in the present moment, and it’s the one system that you have voluntary control over.

You know, you don’t have voluntary control over your heartbeat. Your heartbeat is under the involuntary control of the brain. But you do over your breath and so if we skillfully understand how to use the breath, two things can happen. One, you can very easily, quickly, without any effort, which is the beauty of it, really shift the state of your emotions and the quality of your mental state.

Now who wouldn’t want to have a method of shifting out of any unwanted, stressful emotional state, or a mind that is very busy? The breath used in a specific way can really bring about not only a calmer mind,  but one that is rejuvenated by having more energy. The breath also is a vehicle, and this is a second thing, that it is a vehicle of bringing more subtle life force into our system.

In the east, this was recognized by Chinese medicine, or in yoga, as chi in Chinese medicine or in tai chi the use of chi, and then yoga, as prana, and these are words that describe subtle life force.

Through the breath, we can really rejuvenate our subtle life force. So, by understanding the breath, I think it is the most high-yield practice to not only create a calm mind but an energized system. Your whole attention on mind, body, spirit balance is empowered when you think of using the breath in this way.

And for me, as a doctor, the biggest thing was I tried many different techniques. Before I had gone into medical school I had an interest in this area. I tried different techniques and it wasn’t that I was stressed. I was actually quite calm and I had done different practices, but I stumbled upon a set of practices and one unique practice was the Sudarshan Kriya. Sudarshan Kriya is very commonly referred to as SKY.  SKY, to me as a physician, is one of the most high-yield uses of my time. When we have less time we want high-yield practices.

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