Pranayama and the Nervous System

The nervous system contains the central and autonomic nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain, twelve pairs of cranial nerves, the spinal cord, and thirty‐one pairs of spinal nerves. The cranial and spinal nerves spread throughout the body. These nerves send out and send in to the brain pain and motor impulses. Prana flows throughout these pathways. It also flows through all the nadis, or energetic pathways, which have been studied by ancient yogis and correlate with many of the meridian paths described in literature about acupuncture techniques.   Nadis means channels or vehicles. Some texts describe 72,000 nadis in the body, other texts mention as many as 350,000 of them, but fourteen are considered important, and only six of them are the most important of all. They are called the ida, pingala, sushumna, brahmani, chitrana, and the vijnana.

Among these six, three are even more important than any others. These are centered on the spinal cord, wrapping upward. We learned about these in the UMS Chakras & Auras course while exploring kundalini. Here we will look at how they relate to the nostrils and breathing. Pingala (surya) flows through the right nostril. Ida (chandra) flows through the left nostril. Both criss‐ cross back and forth across the spine. Sushumna is the central pathway moving straight down the middle of the spine and is the moment when both nostrils are open and operating equally. The meditative expansion of that moment is called sandhya, a state in which the meditator cannot be disturbed by sounds, thoughts, or any other disturbance from within or without. It is a “magic moment” or “magic zone.” All three of these nadis begin in the base of the spine, in the root chakra, or mudladhara. When the ida and pingala criss‐cross back and forth across the spine, intersecting with the sushumna, these intersections are the chakras. Five of them are on the spine and the uppermost two are in the head.

Metaphysical Sciences 3 in the head do not have the criss‐cross action from the nadis. The ones on the spine do. The ida, pingala, and sushumna are the three main nadis, but multitudes of other nadis radiate out from the chakras as well.   Scientists have attempted to compare the nadis to what we know about modern anatomy, but they do not correlate as exactly as scientists would like. Even though nadis bear a terrific resemblance to the nervous system, they cannot be detected through dissection. They are part of the energy body, which supports the physical body. The physical body is built around the energy system of the nadis. The nerves belong to the physical body and the nadis belong to the subtle body, two different systems indeed.   The techniques of pranayama are designed to bring the central nadi, the sushumna, into primary function, rather than the ida or pingala dominating the functions of prana flow. With activation of the sushumna as the primary flow for prana, the yogi experiences freedom from the human condition, and joy. By opening up flow of the sushumna, the yogi raises kundalini, the sleeping serpent, from the root chakra, the mudladhara. This kundalini energy, which is very powerful, passes through and blows open each chakra. The resulting states of consciousness, represented by the thousand petalled lotus, the crown chakra at the top of the head, is considered the highest state a person can reach in the human form. It is union with cosmic consciousness, beyond time and space, and also called shakti. The person merges his individual self, soul, or atman, with the cosmic soul, or Brahman.


Circulatory System & Oxygen

In order for the oxygen to be delivered to the cell, it must go through a myriad of systems before it gets there. Oxygen travels through the lungs and the circulatory system before it reaches the cell. The oxygen enters the trachea (throat), splits off into two tubes supplying each lung, and then branches off into even smaller branches until these branches become microscopic in size. After many branching levels they end up in tiny bronchioles which bring the oxygen into little air sacs called alveoli. These air sacs are so tiny that the lung tissue in this area looks solid to the naked eye. Here is where the gas exchange takes place. It happens in these cell‐sized bubbles.

Blood vessels surround the alveoli and the blood cells bend to fit into these bubbles. The blood grabs the oxygen molecules and carries them off into the blood stream. The blood is not, however, distributed evenly around these alveoli, which deliver the oxygen. When one is standing, the blood is thickest around the bottom of the lungs. However, gas exchange is greater in the upper portions of the lung. The degree of efficiency of oxygen transfer can be changed by compensating reflexes in the lungs, and the way a person habitually breathes.

Smoking is about the worst thing anyone can do to his or her breathing apparatus. Emphysema is the result of cigarette smoking and every smoker has it to some extent or another, even if the more serious symptoms of emphysema are not prevalent. Smoking breaks down the lining in the alveoli and this happens slowly over a period of years until a full‐blown case of emphysema is evident. If the alveoli were flattened and spread out, they would cover the space of an entire floor of a house or apartment. This is why it takes so long for emphysema to show up. Pre‐emphysema symptoms would be “shortness of breath” for not as many alveoli are being utilized as should be.

Hemoglobin molecules within red blood cells transport oxygen in the bloodstream or it is directly dissolved in the blood. Most of the oxygen is carried in the hemoglobin molecules. These molecules are made up of four protein chains attached to an atom of iron. Iron is what the oxygen is attracted to, and this bonding causes the blood to be bright red. When hemoglobin transports the waste material from the cells after the conversion of the fuel and oxygen, it carries CO2, causing the blood to be bluish. Arterial blood, the vessels that deliver the oxygen, tend to be in the inner parts of the body and these are red. Venus blood carries the waste products away and tends to be on the outer parts of the body. Venus blood is blue.   O2 and CO2 should be the only molecules that bind to hemoglobin, but sometimes there are other gases present in the air that can enter the bloodstream via the lungs. These gases can crowd out the O2 and cause a crisis. One of these is carbon monoxide, found in cigarette smoke and automobile exhaust.

Carbon monoxide is 240 times more likely to attach to hemoglobin, and this results in a decreased amount of hemoglobin available to carry O2, creating a type of anemia. A person who smokes has somewhere between 5‐15 % of his or her hemoglobin tied up in transporting carbon monoxide, a toxic substance, rather than carrying oxygen. Carbon monoxide causes damage. It also hardens the arteries, leading to heart attacks and strokes.   If this is not knowledge that will cause you to stop smoking if you are a smoker, then nothing will. Even though this knowledge is quite prevalent, and every one knows that smoking causes these problems, still the epidemics of emphysema, heart attacks and strokes go on. (To be fair, heart attacks and strokes can be caused by other factors as well.) This leads one to conclude that people who smoke may secretly harbor a death wish, even unbeknownst to themselves.   Once hemoglobin carries an oxygen molecule, it travels throughout the body and finds cells that need the oxygen. The driving force is the heart.


Pranayama & The Art Of Breathing ©2005 University Of Metaphysical Sciences 5 by Christint Breese.

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