I lost sensation in my hands. One nerve at a time. I could tell which nerves were going too… I know, nerd problems. Then I started losing the ability to control my hands. I wasn’t able to make a fist or rub my fingers together. The thought of panic struck me for a split second, but swiftly disappeared. Because I knew I was safe and that I could snap out of it anytime. It actually felt... blissful.
Then silent tears rolled.
I wanted to tell my husband, my family, and my best friends that I loved them, more than anything. Everything just made more sense. There were only two thoughts - love and happiness.
I really wasn’t trying to do any of it, nor was I told what would happen. In fact, questions and thoughts were flowing the WHOLE time. This was not a “disappear into the heavens sitting on the lap of God” style experience. It was very real and in the moment. It was as if I was experiencing everything as an outsider watching it happen to me. But I was still in my body. I know. Doesn’t have to make sense to you. That’s totally okay. But just follow along for a few more minutes.
I came home and started researching. There has to be an anatomical, scientific, evidence-based, logical reasoning. Right?
This past weekend I went to a course that taught me a breathing technique called Sudharshan Kriya. Having practiced asanas (yoga poses), meditation, and pranayama (breathwork) for several years now, I wanted to get an edge on a new technique that I’ve heard so much about from family and friends.
I’ve explained subjectively what it did for me, albeit I think there really is no way to fully express it in words. I’d probably have to go on for another 20 pages if I even tried.
Objectively, it involves waves of breathing in different forms and in cycles that are repeated several times. I don’t intend on teaching you in words, but here is some scientific basis behind it.
The total lung capacity is all the air that you could possible hold in your lungs. This includes your vital capacity, or the air that you can actively inhale and exhale out, plus the residual volume, or the air that just sits in your lungs, regardless, after you fully exhale. Capeesh?
Now forget about the residual capacity because you can’t do anything about it. The vital capacity is what we care about. This consists of your tidal volume, your natural quiet breathing volume (in and out), plus more of whatever you can possibly inhale and more of whatever you can possibly exhale. Most of the time, our tidal volume is pretty pathetic. We are awfully stressed, anxious, depressed, etc, etc. All of this reduces how much air we take in. Scientifically proven.
When we take larger, deeper breaths and get into more of that vital capacity, now we mean business. Now we mean better oxygen to our brain and body, and lots of good things happen.
Sudarshan Kriya taps into this very thing. It isn’t just taking big belly (diaphragmatic) breaths. It’s about different variations, speeds, and qualities of breathing. One aspect of the technique stimulates parts of the brain called the thalamic nuclei which controls memory processing. Another stimulates the vagus nerve which helps reduce your heart rate and regulate the parasympathetic nervous system (helps rest and relax the body and mind). Another stimulates the opposite - the sympathetic nervous system (helps activate and alert our body and mind).
Some research suggests how Kriya regulates the endocrine system, which regulates hormone release into our body. Oxytocin is one of the hormones thought to increase with this breathing practice. Oxytocin plays a role in social bonding, which explains why I could have felt a wave of love and happiness during my practice.
I knew this to a certain degree. But I know it so much more now. We, humans, have an EXTREMELY powerful tool - our breath. We do not use it to our advantage most of the time. It is after all an unconscious, involuntary act. However, it is the only major part of our autonomic nervous system (unconscious, involuntary part of our brain), that can also be very much conscious.
If we can tap into this on a regular basis, I can only imagine what we would all be capable of. Better control of our immunity, digestion, emotions, sleep, hormonal regulation, and cognitive capacity would be just the start. I’m not interested in swearing by anything, no specific manual therapy technique or exercise or tool. But breathing effectively… this I can wholeheartedly swear by.
*If you would like to learn more about Sudharshan Kriya, please visit The Art of Living Foundation. Note, I do not receive any monetary benefits from sharing this link. In fact, course instructors teach without financial compensation too!