The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research. In May 2008, NIH held its first Yoga Week featuring yoga demonstrations, classes and speakers each day. The event was free and open to the public.
Yogiraj Alan Finger, was the opening speaker for the 2008 NIH Yoga Week. In this series of seven videos, he describes the system of yoga he developed called ISHTA YOGA, an acronym for the Integrated Sciences of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda. Although it was now 5 years ago, this video series has been very popular and the content is timeless, so we thought to share it with our readership.
- The Purpose of Hatha Yoga
- Power of Breath (this post)
- Tantra Cosmology
- On Ayurveda
- On Yoga and Trauma
- Yoga and Modern Science
- Integrating Yogic Sciences
When the body, the muscles, the skeleton and the organs are functioning correctly, one of the major functions of our body, our breath, comes into harmony, and we can breathe properly. Your breath is your life current, your life force. I’m sure you all know that. If you don’t breathe, you’re out of here. You have to be able to breathe. If you can breathe fully and you can control your breath, you actually reach into the nervous system and the mind. The breath is the only autonomic function that can be voluntarily overridden.
In other words, if you are feeling anxious and stressed and fearful and you say, “Chill out stop being like that, be calm!” you’ll get more nervous and agitated. You can’t tell your heart to stop beating so fast or your adrenals to stop pumping but you can take your breath and you can control it once your body is properly aligned. But if your body is all bent over and you try to control your breath it is going to be very difficult.
When your body is correctly aligned you can control your breath. Why is controlling the breath so important? Because it works directly with brain function and with your nervous system. You need oxygen to your brain and how the oxygen is feeding your brain is what state your brain is going to be in.
So I were to show you a long, full breath. I couldn’t sit here and say, “Well, guys, this is how you can breathe long and feel like this, and just sort of go… [demonstrates breathing]
Well, that’s pretty good, isn’t it, because I really have practiced, as Sue was saying, for 47 years, so I’m disciplined and my body is in hatha yoga. But, to really control your breath, it’s incredible if your mind goes still. I’ll breathe through the mouth so you can hear it, but I’ll do a long breath, and watch what happens to my energy. And whilst I’m doing it, even feel what happens to your energy, because there’s a sympathetic exchange, you’ll feel it just by settling in and feeling what I’m doing.
So, I’ll take that second, as this is the ultimate of hatha yoga; to be able to control your breath as it controls your mind and enables you to transcend or to move into another realm that’s even bigger than mind.
So, here’s the breath…
[Demonstrates a long and slow inhalation]
Well, I’m going to stop because I have a train to catch back to Manhattan today. That was just part of an inhalation. Could you hear it? Did you feel it?
In order to do that, I couldn’t just [pretends to breath erratically]; you have to stop, pause, your body has to be in the right balance. You saw everything I did to do it, and then I could control my own breath which made my mind go so still that I feel like I am floating higher than the stage is now, because my consciousness is moving to another place.