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Season 2 - Episode 2

What Inspires the Breath?

5 min - Talk


We investigate what inspires the breath, both the desire of the inhale and the letting go and release of the exhale. Kira unpacks the breath both biologically and through the lens of yogi scientists.
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Feb 25, 2019
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Let's investigate what inspires the breath. So according to our science friends, biologically, what motivates the inhalation is the need to exhale. More important to our survival is the release of the CO2 and other toxic build-up than the need for fresh oxygen. To be a little bit more specific and kind of at the level of sixth grade science, essentially, there are pods right at the medulla oblongata that sits right above your C1, your top cervical spine. So you can bring a hand up to the base of your skull to kind of know where this is.

These pods sense the levels of CO2 in the blood, carbon dioxide. When there's a sense that there is too much, okay, when we're at a dangerous amount of build-up, then there's a signal sent through the phrenic nerve that runs down either side of the spine and enervates the diaphragm. So enervates, reaches its fingers into the diaphragm. This is what triggers the inhalation that then the natural result is exhalation. So just to take that one step further, so for example, a yogini goes on a swim in the ocean and she drowns.

It's not the lack of oxygen that kills her, it's the build-up of the CO2. The yogi scientists say that what inspires the inhalation are the desires that sit in our heart. Now desire can be a complicated subject in the teachings of yoga because on one level what is suggested is that our desire, our want of things, indicates that we're not seeing clearly. The fact of wanting indicates that we're not already aware that we have all that we need. And desire gon-ray becomes greed and greed leads to anger because usually the result of greed is that we don't get what we want.

At the very same time, nothing happens without desire. Desire is an essential component to moving towards doing anything. Have you ever tried to get anything done that you don't really desire to do? It's almost impossible. So when we bring this investigation of what inspires the breath into the practices of yoga and we start to dig a little bit deeper into the inhalation and the exhalation, what we do know is that inhalation naturally leads to exhalation.

Crest implies trough or as they say in the I Ching, the peak of success is the gateway to decline. So naturally, while desire may inspire the inhalation, it's always gonna lead to an exhalation, a letting go, a freeing up, a release, or in the biology, a release of the toxic buildup. Now we can find the inhalation not only in the actual breath, but we also find the suggestion of the inhale in postures that encourage an opening of the chest. So naturally, when we do backbends and chest openers and some twists, there's an expansion and an opening which is going to lead to a ultimate softening. And this expansion, this opening is also causing agitation or an encouragement of what we know is the sympathetic nervous system.

It's naturally stressful. Any opening of the heart, any inhalation is going to be slightly stressful, anxiety producing, but also exciting. The best way to keep things exactly as they are, the most effective way to stay entrenched in the status quo is to never let anything inspire you, to never let yourself fall in love and be moved to do something different. The thing is, is when that happens, when that opening of the heart, when that excitement occurs, part of the play is to also realize that it means that stuff is going to change and that's the part that's not always so easy. And this is why what the yogis say and what the scientists say is actually the same thing.

Because what's inspiring the inhalation, whether you say it's the desires in the heart or the need to exhale and get rid of the toxicity, the result is the same. Because the movement towards something that we want, something that we desire, particularly if it's freedom for ourselves and happiness for others, it means that things are going to have to change, that we're going to have to let go of the build up that is keeping us from seeing the situation clearly. And when we can hit those moments, those rare precious treasure moments of a breathless state, when really we find ourselves in a state that's so deeply satiated and almost drunk on the cosmic love, where we are truly experiencing a level of contentment, Santosh, where there isn't that need to breathe, these are these sweet moments of absorption. And it's these moments that build the faith and allow us to for real know the part of us that doesn't change. And once we know the part of us that really doesn't need to breathe, the part of us that is truly connected, then we can be more open with the breath and inspiration isn't so scary.

It becomes, and we know it as an opportunity to be surprised by what's coming next. So dear friends, welcome to this season where we start to really get in and investigate the breath to become more confident in our ability to study, to hone, and to play in this realm that the yogis have been pointing to for a very, very, very long time. Love.


Kelley S
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