I like to say where there is breath, there is blood. When you breathe, your lungs and your heart together propel blood through your circulatory system into every nook and cranny of your body. When bright red blood irrigates through all bodily tissues, there is longevity and radiant health. A yoga practice helps to animate the breath and distribute prana (oxygen-enriched blood) throughout the body. By breathing we “pranagize” all of our systems.
Anatomically, your lungs and heart are inseparable. An elaborate system of vessels span the two organs so that if your heart were lifted from your chest cavity, your lungs would be removed too.
In terms of feeling, your lungs and heart are also interwoven. They are the primary repository for sentiment. Thus your lungs do not simply draw and expel air like Scottish bagpipes, but, together with your heart, they are the center for sentiments of tenderness and love. In Sanskrit this is called bhava. In states of bhava, feelings of empathy, spiritual rejuvenation, and kindness flourish.
Your lungs are impressionable, sensitive to emotion and feeling. Feelings, especially grief and sadness, imprint onto lung tissue. The impressionable lung is most evident in a child who is disposed to strong feelings such as laughter, crying, or screaming. Emotion passes quickly through the motile lung.
Lungs are extremely delicate. Airborne particulates such as the coronavirus, pollens, pollutants, and toxic chemicals can blotch the tender, spongy lung tissue. Lung tissue is light and fragile because the capillary membranes at the outermost tips of the bronchioles (the alveoli and alveolar sacs) must be fine enough to permit gas exchange into the bloodstream.
In yoga, we not only practice to expand our lungs but also to feel into the moods, mind states, and psychological pressures that manifest inside our lungs. Through meditation, pranayama, postural movements, and sound resonance, we develop greater sensitivity for our prana and become connoisseurs of the air that flows in and out of our lungs 20,000 times per day.
Tias Little is author of Yoga of the Subtle Body and resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives with his wife, Surya; his 17-year-old, Eno, and his pooch, Haro. Join him for his YTA workshop, Lifting the Sails of the Lungs: Yoga, Pranayama, and the Art of Breathing, on September 11, 2021.