This slim book provides a practical introduction to the yogic concept of breath and how to utilize it to link body and mind. With chapters written by Swami Rama and by medical doctors, the book explores both Eastern and Western perspectives for a well-rounded view of the topic, helping the reader to understand first the mechanics of how and why we breathe before delving into the yogic breathing techniques.
The Foreword, Introduction, and Chapter 1 give background on the breath and explore the rationale behind focusing on breathing. Prana, or life energy, is defined and discussed, and the authors describe the benefits of developing a deeper awareness of our breath.
In Chapter 2, Dr. Alan Hymes explains the physical mechanics of breathing: what respiration is and why we do it, how the lungs oxygenate the blood, which muscles are involved in inhalation and exhalation, and how those muscles work. Hymes also explicates the differences between diaphragmatic breathing, thoracic/chest breathing, and clavicular/shallow breathing. The chapter reveals how breathing, a seemingly simple process, is actually a complex and vitally important function for the body.
Chapter 3 by Dr. Rudolph Ballantine details the anatomy of the nose, nasal cavity, and sinuses, and how these areas shape the air currents we breathe and the odors we smell. Ballantine gives strategies for keeping the nose healthy and functioning properly, including nasal wash (neti pot) and alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhanam).
Chapter 4, written by Swami Rama, expands upon how to regulate the breath and use it to control energy in the body. Rama likens the mind to a kite on a string: when the string is held skillfully, you can guide the kite where you want it to go, but until you learn to control the string, the kite will flap around directionlessly. Like a kite’s string, pranayama is a tool we can learn to use to control the mind. Rama states that there’s a reciprocal relationship between breath and mind. We’ve all observed that a certain mood (for example, anger, fear, or passion) can result in a change on one’s breathing pattern; the converse is also true, that consciously changing one’s breathing can affect one’s state of mind. Rama explains, “By consciously making the breath deep, even, and regular, we will experience a noticeable release of tension and an increased sense of relaxation and tranquility” (84). Rama goes on to offer a series of breathing techniques that one can use to achieve this result.
Overall, this is a useful book for anyone interested in pranayama and meditation. The photos and diagrams throughout the book are quite useful for understanding the medical anatomic concepts and the physical yoga positions described. The medically focused chapters on respiration and nasal function are particularly helpful for readers more used to Western science than Eastern philosophy, making the book a good stepping stone towards further reading, but the book is highly worthwhile in its own right as a comprehensive discussion of the function of breath.