A story from Guptananda. In my book which is on line as from April 18th 2008 you will find both guidance and stories about the subjects of 42 aspects of yoga. The 8 Limbs, the Chakras and the Gunas etc. Yogi’s will know!
The story is set many years ago. It is told by an old man, about when he was a boy, the son of a senior scribe in a temple in India.
Father explains the importance of deep breathing
My family was always kept busy doing all sorts of things to keep the household going. There would be all the cooking, the preparing and even the growing of food. There was the cleaning both inside and outside the house, the laundering of all our clothes and the repairing and building of the house and outhouses. The horses needed to be cared for and the other animals needed to be fed, cleaned and watered. We children had our studies to do and our mother was the main supervisor of all this work.
Father worked at the temple and we would only see him early in the morning and in the evening. Sometimes he had a day off and every so often he would decide that it was time the family went on a picnic. We would always choose to walk down by the river and we would find one of many pretty spots to stop at. We children would run off and play at the water’s edge while Mother and Father looked on. Then my father would take off his robe and sit in his loincloth in the shade and start doing his breathing exercises. Sometimes we would ask him what he was doing and he would motion us to go away and leave him in peace.
When we asked Mother why he was breathing like that she just said, “Your father is drawing in good things from the air. He always feels better after he has done his breathing practice. He does it every day, you know, but here by the river he likes to spend longer at his breathing exercises. Off you go and play now, we will call you when it’s time to eat.”
On one occasion my curiosity could not be restrained. We had all gathered round to eat our picnic. Mother was handing out large leaves filled with a delicious mix of peas, beans and tasty herbs. I asked father
“What is it in the air you like so much, Father? Can we get some too? Do we need it, or are you different from us?”
“Ah, my son,” said father. “You are right to want not to be deprived of the benefits of breathing air deeply. Yes, you certainly can do it too, but not while you are eating, my child!” he added as I began to hold my breath with a mouthful of beans half chewed, sitting on my tongue.
“There is a wonderful thing called prana or life force energy, which is in the air. The slower and deeper we breathe the more prana we get into our bodies. This prana keeps us calm, it keeps us healthy. Children get lots of prana into them when they run around and play, when they laugh and when they shout and cry. Children do all these things much more than adults do. When you get older you need to practice breathing exercises to make sure you get enough prana. If you do not you may become weak and ill.”
“But Mother doesn’t do breathing exercises, does she?” I asked.
“Many people chose not to and say that if they do, they do not feel any benefit. That is up to them. I have always felt the benefit, so I will always practise pranayama until I become too old and weak to sit up in the sunshine”
“You’ll never be that old, Father,” said my sister, laughing.
“Mother says that you’ll live ’til you’re a hundred and fifty, and then you’ll fly to heaven. You’ll probably puff yourself there with your prana thing, I know!”
Every one laughed and when we had finished eating, father showed us how to make a reed pipe and blow a long string of bubbles into the water. “This is how I learnt to breath slowly,” he said, as he showed us his bubbles rising one after another quite slowly in a fine stream, unlike ours which came out all of a rush, bursting the water’s surface all in one go.