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Respiratory System, Breathing and Meditation


Keep breathing... each inhale, each exhale matters 

Healing the Total Body: Where Western Anatomy Meets Eastern Spiritual Science

Healing Series, part 6 

Table of Contents:

Breath and meditation

Chakras activated by breathing

TCM and lungs

Respiratory system


Resting, relaxing, sleeping and balance

(back to the Healing Series)


Breath and meditation

Breathing brings me back to myself. It is the core of yoga. It is the way to stay present with my body, with my own intimate experience, and it is also the only way I can clear out my body's need to move and my mind's overthinking, to allow me to effectively meditate.

Breathing like a heartbeat

Breathing—smooth, even inhales and exhales through the nose, letting the breath move up and down through the back of the throat—is a necessary and inherent part of my Ashtanga yoga practice.

Being in the Mysore room, the breath of the group is louder than the music and there is no teacher voice leading. The breathing takes over the experience. It becomes like a heartbeat or like the metronome used in music. Ashtanga yoga breathing is called Ujjayi breath.

Full inhale, full exhale

The goal of yoga is to be at peace and grounded all day in life, not just in yoga. It's to train my body to breathe and be calm in any of life's situations. It's easy to breathe during yoga.

Often times during the day at home I'll check in with my breathing, especially if I'm agitated and realize I’m not really exhaling fully. I notice that I typically do quick sharp inhales and small exhales (enough to stay alive). Once I’m cognizant of this, I return to my soothing, even breath—grounding each inhale from the top of the head with a full exhale down to the base of my spine.


Chakras activated by breathing

Ashtanga Yoga breathing provides a gateway to each of the chakras, as the Prana travels from the first chakra at base of my spine and upward to the seventh chakra at the top of my skull. If I’m deeply connected to my subtle body, I’m transfixed and in a deep meditative state.

Each of the seven chakras of the Chakra System holds specific emotions and inclinations so getting in touch with one out of balance is not always a calming or enjoyable experience (but balance is the best end result).

I wrote a poem to each of my chakras.

Root chakra - Muladhara

1. Root Chakra (Muladhara Chakra) is about basic needs, security and survival.

“dear first chakra, i don’t know you or how you do it, but when i‘m not looking you trap me and hold me down. your arms are heaviness encapsulating me. but, when i feel you grounding me, each of my toes touch the floor at the same time and know their purpose.”

Too dominant: self-centered. Blocked: displaced anger and fear. Resides in hips, legs, lower back, sex organs (male).

Sacral chakra - Svadhishthana

2. Sacral Chakra (Svadhishthana Chakra) is about creativity and self-worth.

“dear second chakra, i want you to understand something. it isn’t me, it’s you. i need you. i don’t want you to leave ever. i want to eat you up. i need to keep you close.”

Too dominant: revolve around satisfying desires. Blocked: passions hide. Resides in lower back, sacrum, sex organs (female), kidneys, bladder, large intestine

Solar Plexus chakra - Manipura

3. Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura Chakra) is about making things happen.

“dear third chakra, i have a hard time waiting as if impatience is my path to you. run to me as i run to you. please. i’ll meet you there. hurry. i’m waiting.”

Too dominant: always moving, not fulfilled. Blocked: low self-esteem and feel others control me. Resides in stomach, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, small intestine

Heart chakra - Anahata

4. Heart Chakra (Anahata Chakra) is about love and connecting to my heart.

“dear fourth chakra, with you i believe how precious the teardrop is. you feel me then. how could you not? i am full. i have been carrying the holes of you. i love you.”

Too dominant: emotional, frequent crying, alone. Blocked: apathetic about love but sense something missing, paranoid about love. Resides in heart, lungs, circulatory system, shoulders and upper back.

Throat chakra - Vishuddha

5. Throat Chakra (Vishuddha Chakra) is about communication and my inner voice.

“dear fifth chakra, do you know what i wish to say to you? how did you hear through my silent fog? it’s ok, i know how.”

Too dominant: too talkative, not truth. Blocked: will feel silenced, hiding, timid. Resides in throat, neck, teeth, ears, thyroid gland.

Third Eye chakra - Ajna

6. Third Eye Chakra (Ajna Chakra) is about intuition.

“dear sixth chakra, i know before you know. it’s a feeling. it’s knowledge. it’s truth. i would bet anything on it. circle back and find me.”

Too dominant: intuitions are my only path, not practice or realities. Blocked: won’t see perceptions, feel non-assertive and afraid of success. Resides in eyes, face, brain, lymphatic system, endocrine system.

Crown chakra - Sahasrara

7. Crown Chakra (Sahasrara Chakra) is my spiritual peak.

“dear seventh chakra, you are like the candle flame that always burns, the one i cannot tell is you or me or we.”

Too dominant: I prefer to float on a cloud of euphoria. Blocked: out of touch with spirit and frustrated. Resides in soul, spirit.


TCM and lungs

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the lungs govern Qi and respiration, and in particular are in charge of inhaling air. From the air, the lungs inhale “pure Qi" for the body when it combines with food-Qi coming from the Spleen (Lymphatic System). The lungs exhale “dirty Qi”. The constant exchange and renewal ensures proper functioning for the physiological processes. (Source: The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists, Maciocia)

Answers become stories about interactions

TCM "echoes the logic of quantum physics, which suggests that we exist in a relative, process-oriented universe in which there is no objective world separable from living subjects. The essential questions cannot be resolved by measuring static things; rather, answers become stories about interactions and relationships." (Source: Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, Beinfield & Korngold)


Respiratory system

In anatomy, the breath is part of the Respiratory System. We breathe to stay alive, inhaling oxygen coming into our lungs (which gets into our blood and then releases the energy from our cells for us to use), and exhaling carbon dioxide (waste product and toxic if accumulated).

Oxygenate the blood

The pulmonary artery brings oxygen-poor blood and carbon dioxide-rich blood to the Alveoli, microscopic branching airways to the lungs. The Lungs nourish the blood. Blood leaving the lungs is low in carbon dioxide and rich in oxygen.

Parts of Respiratory System:

  • Nasal cavities. Air enters through nose or mouth to the Pharynx (throat).
  • The lungs occupy most of the thoracic cavity (containing the Alveoli, respiratory membranes)
  • Respiratory muscles: diaphragm muscle and intercostal muscle give the lungs power.
  • Portion of the brain called Respiratory Control Center controls breathing.


Ujjayi breathing in yoga calms the Nervous System too. Breathing that's involved in most other activities, such as hiking up a hill, exerts the breath in a way that allows more oxygen for the muscles and Respiratory System. In other words, breathing through the mouth is necessary to withstand most activities. In yoga, it's not necessary to open the mouth to breathe, as we bathe ourselves in the breath that circulates within us; there are resting yoga postures for exhaustion such as Balasana (Child's Pose).

Involuntary vs. voluntary breath

What happens to the Respiratory System when we are working beyond our capacity? Or when we are practicing Pranayama breathing, voluntarily holding our breath at top of inhale or bottom of exhale, or even holding our breath under water?

Typical breathing is under involuntary respiratory control but we have the capacity for voluntary control too. As the levels of carbon dioxide and hydrogen ions increase in bodily fluids, impulses from the respiratory center overcome the voluntary inhibition of breathing, forcing us to take a breath. Deep and rapid breathing is called hyperventilation. If this gets out of control, and fear enters, a panic attack could occur. Breathing is essential for our life.

Thirst and breath

Why do we get thirsty when exercising and out of breath? Muscle-building pulls water from the muscles and into the blood (like a pump) to maintain circulation. Staying hydrated is necessary. Drinking water replenishes us; thirst is not related to sweat or electrolytes. It would seem to be part of Respiratory System as it occurs when exhausted but it's the Muscular System.


Resting, relaxing, sleeping and balance

Winding down in the evening is important for my lifestyle. This is when I go most inward and into my creative and rejuvenating space. Sleep is important to me and since I wake at 5:00 a.m. each morning, I'm usually in bed by 9:00 p.m. I do get an 8-hour sleep each night.

My nighttime routine includes no electronics or screen time in the last hour before bed, and meditation on my meditation pillow in front of my fireplace just outside the woods, which is grounding for me. This is where my breathing is most important, so that I take that calm into my sleep. It's all part of the yoga life.

Red wine enhances sattva

A glass of red wine is a nice ritual. On wine and Respiratory System, "The cardiovascular risks and benefits of the ingestion of wine... have been well publicized; however, less attention has been focused upon the health effects of wine consumption on the respiratory system. The contention that some of the health benefits of wine are due, in part, to its ethanol also prompts an examination of the data on the effects on the respiratory tract. Substances providing an anti-oxidant effect (i.e., Resveratrol) could conceivably be associated with a beneficial effect on lung function, as has been suggested by a number of studies." (Source:

On spirituality, my peaceful spiritual Sattvic state seems perpetuated with some red wine, yet with more warmth and gratitude. It enhances my spiritual state since it relaxes any tensions that may hold my heart hostage or any blockages in my subtle body. It offers insight into my mind-body as one entity, beginning with my breathe. Red wine presents benefits to the heart, mainly the Resveratrol (more on that for Cardiovascular System). Its heart-warming dimension of love is calming, and helps me balance out more Tamas (dullness) and more Rajas (overthinking and action). As a part of evening meditations, savoring every sip of red wine reminds me to breathe. It’s an offering to me, like a treat. It brings meaning to the wine, by focusing and enjoying its favorable effects with each sip. That’s where the magic happens because the thoughts slow down and my body and mind relaxes.

Red wine in Ayurveda soothes the Vata dosha, white wine soothes the Pitta dosha. I have noticed the effects of restoring me to a balanced state.

Coming into balance

In terms of the gunas, when I’m feeling most Tamasic (getting tired, feeling bored to be in the room yet need to continue on), instead of getting up to take a break—which I know will exacerbate my state—I bring on the opposite of Tama, which is Raja. In other words, I move faster, breathe heavier (especially the inhales up into rib cage). This acts as a balancing act for me between Rajas/Tamas, which work together to make them both dissolve into myself, leaving Sattva. Since Rajas and Tamas are each something to tame in yoga, in this example, for me I am calming my story and emotional ego. Facing both Rajas and Tamas with the purpose of feeling more pure and Sattvic is a key to yoga.

In a similar way, TCM’s yin/yang are balancing. When I’m in the Yin, I’m feminine and softer. Yang is the opposing masculine. (each need each other to exist). Its balanced state is the goal.