ESPANOLA, N.M., Aug. 14--By the time you're a couple of years old, you know how to breathe and walk. So why do you need to read a book about it?
"You are what your breath is. Good breathing is a specific, fundamental aspect of life. People have forgotten," according to Yogi Bhajan, identified in the book "Breathwalk" (Broadway Books, June 2000) as spiritual leader of the Sikh religion in the Western Hemisphere.
The book offers a number of techniques designed to lead to "a revitalized body, mind and spirit," according to its title.
Bhajan taught the breathing techniques and their health benefits to Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, and the two wrote "Breathwalk." Bhajan lives at the Sikh center near Española, and Khalsa spends part of the year there to teach through its 3HO Foundation.
"Breathwalk" discusses the importance and techniques of deep breathing--a breath that expands the belly and rib cage and even lifts the collarbone. The book offers different patterns of breathing to be matched with each footstep as a person walks.
A person might breathe in smoothly for four steps and exhale for eight. Or inhale distinct puffs of air for each of four steps, and then whisper separate syllables on the exhale, with a different syllable for each of four steps. The different combinations are intended to help a person achieve different mental and emotional states, such as calm or energetic.
The breathwalk is preceded by some simple moves, again timed with a person's inhale and exhale, to prepare a person. The breathwalk is followed by an "innerwalk," one of a number of mental exercises that might re-create the experience of the walk, focus on different senses, or shift your perception of your breath to different parts of your body.
"I love simple things that have a profound effect," said Khalsa, a business consultant based in Massachusetts who offers guidance on topics ranging from mastering stress to spurring creativity.
The breathwalk grew from his experiences as a psychotherapist, Khalsa said. People would come to see him with depression or anxiety, hunched over and slow in telling their story, he said. His studies with Bhajan inspired him to take clients out on a walk, encouraging deep breathing for about 20 minutes. All their problems weren't solved in one walk, but the experience visibly lifted a weight off their shoulders, he said.
Khalsa said their energy, the flow of their thoughts, and the quality of their mind, all had improved. People were left with a feeling that they did have resources and options to handle their problems, he said.
And while the breathwalk approach springs from kundalini yoga, its basics are well-grounded in findings from Western medicine.
Many studies have suggested that some form of deep breathing and/or meditation are related to reduced anxiety or stress. Others have found that exercise, including walking, can reduce blood pressure and ease depression, among a number of positive changes.
The big difference between yoga and a breathwalk, though, is that while it might take 25 years of study to become a yogi, you can learn breathwalk in a day, Khalsa said.
"I teach this in corporations. You can do it between meetings," he said. "You can do it wherever you are."
Bhajan compared most people's lifestyles to putting leaded gas in a car designed for unleaded gas. People are living in abnormal ways, he said. "People are not getting the proper oxygenation, and their circulation is weak," he said.
"The question is: What are we doing to ourselves?" Bhajan said. "That's our idea, to let people know by doing something very simple, they can do a lot for themselves."