Breathing has been an important field of study in the East for over 5000 years. Taoists, Buddhists and yogis all use breathing as a way to prevent sickness, prolong youth, achieve longevity and reach the highest accolade of immortality.
Yoga, qi gong and tai chi chuan all use breath to not only enhance the flow of movement (and the flow of prana/ch'i which is connected to the breath), but also in martial applications to power offensive and defensive techniques.
Many masters through the ages have kept secret the full knowledge of the power of the breath, imparting it only to their most devout students. Pramayama in yoga is similar, in that it is not widely taught and only advised for advanced students under supervision of a teacher, due to the powerful effects it can have.
The Air We Breathe
One of the most fascinating things I have come across recently is that when breathing, we not only inhale oxygen, we also inhale other vital elements that if difficient, we are usually advised to take in a pill. These elements are: Iron, copper, zinc, fluorite, quartz, zincite and magnesium.
Daoist philosopher Chuang Tzu proclaimed ‘Expel the old, take in the new’.
Eastern practices teach that breathing is not just about what we gain, but also what we expel. This could be letting go of tensions, beliefs, repetitive thoughts, but also getting rid of waste and toxic metals that accumulate in the body from our environment (lead, mercury and other poisons). Buddhists have long taught that when used properly, the breath can purify, repair and clean the body (some say over 70% of toxins in the body are expelled by breath alone!).
This makes getting out into nature for some fresh air an even more valuable pass time. In this most basic, natural form we are able to detoxify, heal and purify our bodies simply by using the power of the breath.
This is a good article on the different types on qi gong breathing ... here
A gentle, healing pramayama technique in yoga would be alternate nostril breathing, which balances left and right hemispheres of the brain, relaxes the nervous system and cleanses the lungs, to name a few... read more here