Holistic Living - Speech and Breath
by Swami Veda Bharati
At a purely physical level speech is nothing but modulated breath
Speech is a manifestation of the following factors: It begins with an understanding in the buddhi or mind, what we recognize as ‘knowing’. This is followed by the intention to express the understanding and knowledge to another. Usually, some emotion accompanies the knowledge. Prana is awakened, and gives a push to the respiratory organs. Respiration is modulated through the vocal organs, and the modulated breath generates sound waves. When these touch the listener’s ear canal, and pass through his brain systems, it produces an understanding and/or an emotion.
At a purely physical level, thus, speech is nothing but modulated breath. No wonder that in yoga breath rhythms are given so much importance. Breath, in yoga, is called svara and the science of breath rhythms is svara-shastra. In fact the word svara is used to indicate all the three – the consonants and vowels that the speaker utters, the tone of his voice, and also the variety of tones that make music.
Each vowel uttered is a puff of breath expelled, each consonant spoken is a breath withheld. Thus a sentence spoken is a series of short jerky breaths.
Try this out. Place your hand in front of the mouth and say a few sentences in any language. You will feel the tingling of jerky breaths on the palm. Each syllable uttered uses a single breath. In saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I hate you’, you have used up three breaths each, however the different emotion in either case will ensure that ‘I love you’ wastes lesser energy than ‘I hate you’.
In yoga, human lifespan is measured not by the number of years that one will live, rather, it is counted through the number of breaths that an individual has been gifted. The numbers of breath, it is believed, are allotted to us according to our previous karmas. Do not ask how many years I will live, say the great yogis, ask instead, how many breaths am I allotted in this lifetime? Use them wisely. Invest them the way you would invest your monetary capital so that it lasts longer. Economise.
We saw above that in one short sentence composed of a subject-verb-object we used up three breaths from our allotted number. These were not smooth, rhythmic breaths but short, jerky, breaths that don’t follow a particular rhythm. In face, in uttering just a few words one stimulates all the systems that are involved in articulation of speech: neurological, cardiac, thoracic, respiratory and laryngeal-vocal. Keep talking for an entire hour in a loud, emotionally volatile conversation, and do you realise how many breaths you have wasted?
Using the metaphor of driving, just imagine if your car accelerator, engine, carburettor, brakes and steering wheel are all jerking non-stop. What will happen to the car? How far will that car take you? Having your car in that condition, do you need to go to an astrologer to ask: Could you, Mr Astrologer, check the planets and predict for me how long the car will live? Will it take me to my destination? The astrologer will say: I have no knowledge of cars, go to a car mechanic, please. Similarly, if you aspire to live long, go to the yogis, the real experts in breath management, who will show you how to extend your breaths and not expend them so fast.
The following measures are some of the surest ways to slow down the breath and in turn extend your lifespan:
• During the day, whenever you remember, bring your consciousness to your breathing and slow it down
• Practice breathing exercises under a master
• Cultivate sattvic emotions of amity, love, joyfulness because the opposites of these, such as anger, make the breath jerky and short
• Reduce activities that shorten the breath such as overeating and sexual over-indulgence
• Meditate regularly as this practice automatically lengthens the breath
• Reduce the volume and length of speech considerably
• Practice intentional silence, not merely the involuntary silence that occurs when one is sitting alone, idle and bored
The science of silence can indeed be practised by us all and benefit us tremendously. We shall continue learning more about it in the next issue.