Here is an experiment for you!
Say Ah and Ooh until there is not a whisper of breath left in your body. Hold it. Hold the breath out for say five seconds. Now breathe out some more. Interestingly enough you can do it even though you thought you had breathed out all the air there was in you. Hold it five seconds more. Now breathe out once more. Oddly enough you can do it again. What you thought was all origins of breathwork the air left in your lungs was not all of it; there was more left. Nor is that all! Wait another five seconds. You can breathe out a bit more all over again and this remains true for as long as you can stand have no air at all inside you!
Now, saying ‘Mmmm,’ inhale a welcome chestful of air. Continue inhaling up and in until the pointed needle of air reaches down into your belly. Hold it. Hold the breath in for five seconds or so. Now breathe in some more. There is room for more air to come in just as there was room to exhale more air on the other end of this cycle of breathing. Hold the air in another five seconds and then breathe in a bit more. You can do it! There is room for more air even though you thought you had breathed in as much as would go. After five more seconds there is room for another bit of air. It will keep happening as long as you are able to hold all the breath you have inside you.
I am certain you are curious why this is the case. Having done what you would have thought is impossible to do arouses one’s curiosity. It is only natural.
The reason you are able to exhale infinitely is because when you exhale all the air you thought there was in you what happens next is that your blood trickles carbon dioxide atom by atom into your lungs. The longer you hold your breath out the more stale air passes into your lungs which, in the absence of anything in them act like a suction pump helping haul the waste out of your blood. From your lungs the spent oxygen your blood originally carried with it to the cells of your body now passes back into your lungs again and with your next breath back out into the atmosphere from which it came, where it resides until the nearest hungry tree makes use of the carbon dioxide you have enriched the world with for the photosynthesis that is essential to a tree’s life; photosynthesis turns the stale air you exhaled back into the oxygen we breathe.
The other end of the cycle of the seemingly infinite capacity your lungs have of inhaling more oxygen is made possible by your lungs’ absorption of the air in them. Passage of oxygen into the blood makes it possible for you to inhale infinitely just like the expulsion of carbon dioxide made it possible for you to breathe out seemingly forever.
The simple fact anyone can breathe in or out infinitely is a revelation because it defines not only one’s capacity to breathe but one’s relation to the atmosphere which sustains life on the planet as well and, inversely, helps define the atmosphere’s relation to all us who breathe. This requires a bit of explaining.
The infinity of breath is measurable in infinitesimal amounts of air one can both inhale or exhale without limit save for one’s capacity to keep the air either in, or outside of one’s body. We breathe air and this relation has two basic elements: the air and us. When you breathe out the escaping air leaves you behind; it is outside of you just as breathing in means air enters and fills your body, which surrounds all of it and absorbs as much of it as it can. Respiration is a reciprocal relation obtaining between us and the earth’s atmosphere.
Consider the basic cycle of breath as the three Pranayama articles preceding this one define it; a breath starts with exhalation that begins in the belly, the contraction of one’s abdominal muscles (aah) moving the diaphragm upward until the muscles of one’s thorax (ooh) completing the raised diaphragm’s expulsion of all the air that remains in one’s lungs. The lungs contract maximally and yet there is always room for more contraction and removal of more by now quite stale air. The first step of this cycle, then, is exhalation lasting 12 seconds.
The second step of the cycle is when you keep the contraction in place and wait 12 seconds, you within the planet’s atmosphere but the atmosphere exterior to you. You are within what is without you. There are two basic possible ways to keep the air locked out of your body. The first of these is to apply what yogi’s call ‘locks’ at the base of your spine and at the top of your lungs. This means holding the air out statically with blocks preventing the expansion of your musculature both at the ends of you spine, at the base and at the top of it. This is, especially when you are new it, a very giddy experience. For a refresher on this subject, why not review the first three articles?
The other variation of sustaining exhalation is to keep pressing more air out, infinitesimally little by little, for a count of 12 (‘om one, om two,’ etc.). If you try it, you will notice the difference between these two ways of sustained exhalation immediately. In both cases though, the pressure your contracted muscles transfer to the base of your spine stimulates the nerve center that is there and you will discover first of all that the more you press the air away and out the more flexible the region of the tail-end of your spine becomes. At first it will hurt a bit.
Keep contracting. You experienced this already in the ‘snap-crackle-pop’ phase of your Pranayama practice and the more the pain is residual in practically everyone’s lower back is subjected to the pressure of complete exhalations, the more this place turns into a painless source of incredible energy. It floods your nervous system from the base of your spine to the top of your head.