Dr. Dean Ornish answered:
During my medical training, I was taught only the pathology of breathing-what happens when something goes wrong with the lungs or respiratory system. But in the tradition of yoga, thousands of years have been spent studying the more subtle effects of the breath on the mind and body, and how these can be enhanced for greater power, health, and inner peace.
In this system, we inhale not only oxygen but also energy, or prana (pronounced "prah-na"). In Sanskrit, prana means both breath and spirit. In other languages, the words for breath and spirit are similar. In Hebrew, for example, the term is ruach. In Latin, it is spiritus. The Greek word is pneuma.
Breath is the vehicle for prana. This "vital force" may sound a little mystical to a Western physiologist since it cannot be measured using conventional scientific equipment. Yet in our daily language we refer to our "energy level," which is high at some times and low at others. Our experience validates the concept of "energy" even though we can't measure it. Likewise, practicing these breathing techniques may enhance your level of energy.
The breathing techniques described in chapter 7 of the book Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease are called pranayama, literally "control of prana." These techniques can expand and balance the availability of energy to you. In meditation, this flow of energy can be focused and intensified. Using visualization, you can learn to direct this energy to assist in the process of health and healing.
According to this school of thought, we are composed of several "bodies," each more subtle than the other. Your physical or material body is derived from your "pranic" or energy body. Other "bodies," which are not described here, are even more subtle.
Whether or not this is literally true has not been scientifically proven, although it may be experienced. For example, at the end of a deep relaxation, when your physical body is very quiet, you may feel your energy body swaying back and forth as you breathe. Also, when a person's arm or leg is amputated due to injury or disease, he or she often experiences the arm or leg as still being there even after it is gone. Sometimes he or she will even experience pain in the amputated body part, a phenomenon that doctors term "phantom pain." Although part of the physical body is gone, that part of the energy body still remains.Find out more about this book: Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease: The Only System Scie...During my medical training, I was taught only the pathology of breathing-what happens when something goes wrong with the lungs or respiratory system. But in the tradition of yoga, thousands of years have been spent studying the more subtle effects... More