Question: I have been given to understand that in normal breathing we breathe in through both nostrils and then the energy goes down one side of the spine for two hours and then it goes down the other side for two hours; but that when we do alternate breathing, this changes. Is it true?

Sri Chinmoy: No, it is not true. The only thing that happens during normal breathing, when both nostrils are functioning, is that life energy goes up and down the spine. Spiritual figures are conscious of this; ordinary people are not. Prana goes upward to give realisation and downward for transformation. When prana goes up and passes through the Sahasrara chakra, it touches the Highest, like a link between Heaven and earth. When it goes down, it helps us keep a firm hold on matter, on the physical world. What actually happens during alternate breathing is that you put concentrated energy into your breathing in order to purify and divinely activate your system.

Twelve to fifteen breaths per minute is normal for most human beings, but there are people who breathe only three or four times a minute as a result of their practice of alternate breathing. The turtle is the symbol of Immortality. It breathes about three times per minute. That is why a turtle lives for hundreds of years while we live for only fifty, sixty or seventy years.

This technique of breathing gives success in all walks of life. It immediately takes us to the inner world and identifies us with the essence of our existence. From the soul we are reaching the Source, and when we are in the Source all is success and fulfilment.

For anything that you want to do, you will do better if you can hold your breath comfortably for a longer period. I happened to be a good sportsman in the hundred metre race. It is said that if you want to run a distance of a hundred metres, you should breathe in once and then cover the entire distance without breathing again. If you breathe in three or four times while you are running, you will be lost. Sometimes I could not do it in one breath and I had to take a second breath. Although I held the first prize for twelve years, I know I would have done far better if I could have done it always in one breath. Anything that you want to do, you will do better if you breathe in properly and hold your breath. But this should be done comfortably, without straining the lungs. While we are breathing ordinarily during the day, not even three or four times do we utilise our lungs so that they work to their full capacity. But proper breathing is very important. You know we are living in a world of economy. We always try to economise. If we can learn alternate breathing, then we are economising. And we get immediate success if we can do alternate breathing.