Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Ayurveda and the power of the breath

The breath is the connecting link between the inner world of the mind and the outer world of body and environment.  Meditation works by bringing an effect from the level of Being to the mind.  With the breath, we bring this effect to the physical level as well.

When an illness comes, first it comes in thought, often as the subtlest idea, in sound form.  And then it manifests in light form, in the aura.  The illness then manifests in the body.  Simple symptoms arise in a fluid form that can be eradicated.  And finally they manifest in the most gross form, where medication is needed.

Life and the whole universe are made of five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space.  Or you could say the five senses and their objects: smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound.  Even these five elements are not tight compartments.  One flows into another.

The subtlest element in us is space, which is the element the mind is made of.  The most gross is the earth element, which our bones and marrow, the skin, and structure are made of.  These elements are further divided into the three doshas — vata, pitta, and kappa, which are familiar ways to understand the physiology and its reflection in the mind.

If your mind is bogged down with too many impressions and too many thoughts, it will drain your resistance to disease.  If the mind is clear, calm, meditative, pleasant, the body’s resistance will increase.  So for good health, the first remedy is calming down the mind by attending to the sublets aspect of creation — akasha, the space element.

And then we come to the air element, the breath.  Even aromatherapy can come here.  And after that there is color therapy or light.  Before an illness manifests in the body you can see it in the aura of a person.   By energizing our system with prana, life energy, breath, you can clear the aura and prevent the illness before it comes.  That is what yoga does.  Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutra, says the purpose of yoga is to stop the sorrow before it arises.  It’s one of the most beautiful treatises, where, in just one sentence he gives a formula.  What is the purpose of this?  To stop the sorrow before it arises.  To burn the seed before it sprouts.

And then comes the water element.  Fasting or purifying the system with water can bring a lot of balance of the system.

Breath and the Doshas

In yoga and breathing practices, the three-stage pranayama uses ujjayi (a subtle sound breath), with the hands placed in different places, which directs the energy to the three major parts of the body.  And it has an effect on the three doshas.  There are breathing exercises for the lower, middle and higher parts of the body.

You might have noticed, if you have done the three-stage pranayama, that after doing it you feel the doshas in your body have altered.  The pranayama brings the system balance.

And, as we have seen with Sudarshan Kriya and SKY Meditation [a specific breathing meditation], definite rhythms or breathing patterns can correct those doshas and bring further balance in those areas.

Our breath has a lot of secrets to offer.  Because for every emotion in the mind there is a corresponding rhythm in the breath.  And each rhythm affects a certain part of the body.  You only need to observe it.

These things, you don’t have to learn from anybody if you have the sharpness of the mind.  If your mind is very keen and full observation, then just observing the people around, the children around, and the nature around, you learn a lot.  But our mind is preoccupied with so many things, so many judgments, so many opinions, and so many impressions.  We are unable to perceive the refined things in nature.  So we need to study.

What is that something that is in this body, which is feeling happy and miserable, which is expressing, which is experiencing, which is evolving, and which is moving through the events?  What is that?  This knowledge, this inquiry is the study of consciousness, the study of life.

Swastha is the Sanskrt word for health, and it means “established in one’s Self.”  This is the benchmark the ancient rishis have set forth.  The real degree of health is determined by the smile, by the serenity, the dignity, by the good behavior of a person, and the positive vibes emitted.

Ayurveda is the only system of medicine on this planet that is written in poetry and sung.  All the original knowledge is in verses.  The very knowledge is musical, bringing harmony between the right and left hemisphere of the brain, and indicating that life has to be lived with this holistic perspective.


Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a spiritual leader and humanitarian who is the founder of Sri Sri College of Ayurvedic Science and Research and its associated Ayurvedic hospital and centers.  He is also the founder of the Art of Living Foundation and International Association for Human Values which are among the largest UN-accredited NGOs.  He is also the founder The Los Angeles Art of Living Center where a variety of programs are offered throughout the year.  artoflivingla.org