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The science of breath |


The science of breath

WONDERBLOG - Ping Medina -

I once stumbled upon an amazing video that opened up my eyes to the wonders of the human mind’s power. It was about Tibetan monks high up in the Himalayan mountains who practice a deep kind of meditation called Tummo, or Inner Fire.

Inner Fire is a kind of powerful meditation known to give intense sensations of body heat, even to the point that monks high up in the freezing cold altitude can take a drenched towel, drape it over their bare backs (a normal human being can die from hypothermia given the sub-zero temperatures) and amazingly turn it into steam.

I’ve always been interested in the mind’s meditative powers so it was a pleasant surprise to me when I got a text from Cynthia Alexander about a breathing workshop coming to Manila.

Cynthia Alexander has always been an idol of mine as she has recorded amazing albums like “Insomnia & Other Lullabyes” (1997), “Rippingyarns” (2000) and “Comet’s Tail” (2005), which all have received critical and popular acclaim. The only album I don’t have is “Walk Down The Road(2009), which is a recording of a live performance.

This time though, she is advocating something that is not her own. Cynthia has been taking asthma drugs since childhood, so she wanted to find a natural cure for her asthma that doesn’t involve the daily use of steroid and bronchodilator inhalers, which have been taking their toll on her body for many years.

In April 2007, she learned of the Art of Living Foundation when the founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar came to Manila to do a Health and Happiness workshop. Apparently, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a humanitarian leader, spiritual teacher and an ambassador of peace who founded the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing technique.

The science of breathing

The Sudarshan Kriya is basically about the science of breathing. It’s about living a balanced life in this fast-paced age, where stress and depression are widespread, and can take their toll on our physical and mental health. On a scientific level, it is about reducing the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body, which has many benefits like strengthening the immune system, among others.

As Cynthia relates, “We are born into the world with an inhalation, and we leave the world with an exhalation. We are very busy taking care of business and career and family and home and other strivings with hardly a moment to pause. We notice our breath only when we are out of breath climbing stairs or running to catch a train or bus. Being aware of the breath brings us to the awareness of our health, our mental state, and the self within.”

According to Shankar’s teachings, a person breathes an average of 16 to 17 times per minute. But it can go down to 10 if you are calm and happy; two to three breaths if you are in meditation. Deep meditation can reduce the number of breaths you take.

By working with the breath, we learn to control our emotions and thoughts. Awareness of the breath brings the mind to the present moment, the level of stress diminishes and one is able to make appropriate decisions for the tasks at hand. Learning to use the breath can be a powerful tool for us to live lives to the fullest.

As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar stresses the importance of breathing, “The mind is like a kite and the breath, like a thread. For the mind to go high the breath needs to be longer.”

Since May 2007, Cynthia Alexander has seen her lung doctor only once or twice. Now, she wants to share her newfound optimism with the world, “Practicing the Sudarshan Kriya daily has also given me a certain clarity and equanimity of mind. I might begin to write happy songs.”

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Interested in the breathing workshops? The Art of Living Part 1 course will be on Jan. 17-22, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Monday-Friday) and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Saturday) at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel. For more information, visit

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