_ Throughout my life in silat, I have only found three silat styles that teach very specific breathing methods: Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9, Silat Sendeng Haji Hamid and recently, Silat Bongsu. It was Lok 9’s multipurpose Nafas Melayu that originally got me interested to do a little more research into why breathing is considered one of the cornerstones of traditional silat.
Among my sources include sports science, tariqat, chi gung and yoga. Hours of discussion, reading, thinking and learning also come together with the world views of each of these sources. It’s interesting to compare and contrast how people from different backgrounds think about breathing.
Some speak scientifically and refer to the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide as mystical enough, while others speak of using deliberate breathing to ‘cleanse’ the body of negative energy, toxins and the such. In short, I have experienced breathing being spoken of from the scientific, practical, philosophical, mystical, magical and religious standpoints.
In Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9, Nafas Melayu is considered the basic method from which all breathing variants are derived. It develops calmness, stamina, strength and explosive power. Thus far, it has served me well in managing stressful situations.
The LEAN (Latih Erat Anggota Nafas – Developing Breathing Apparatus) of Silat Sendeng Haji Hamid on the other hand is the exact opposite and develops muscular strength and explosive power.
The breathing of Silat Bongsu however, is the first time I have experienced the pairing of breath and salawat. This is supposed to work on the physiological and spiritual level, to create calmness in both, which will help the practitioner deal with a confrontation.
Ustaz Saiful Muhammad, guru utama of Silat Telapak Nusantara (of which Silat Bongsu is one iteration) recommends that we breath naturally, inhaling deeply through our nose and exhaling through the mouth. Although it seems simple, but this process is not simplistic.As we find in many sources, breath is considered the stuff of life. Unfortunately, modern man has lost much of his natural breathing pattern. People in the past toiled and lived in harmony with the land, breathing pure air. Their hard labour allowed their bodies to process oxygen better than we ever could.
Now, we live in polluted air and work in air conditioned offices, thinking more and exercising less. Ironically, brainwork requires far more oxygen than present conditions provide. As a result of this situation, we who live in the cities develop a shortness of breath. We no longer inhale deeply, because it hurts to do so.
People who still live close to nature can tell the difference in the quality of the air when they come to Kuala Lumpur. When I visited the hillside Janda Baik forest in Pahang several years ago, the air was sickeningly sweet. I felt faint, some say due to the excess oxygen.Returning to the city, I could clearly compare the evil in the air which pollutes our lungs daily. For many years, this is how I lived. Fortunately, I now live in an area which is still close to forest and undeveloped, relatively unspoiled and I'm getting used to the change (for the better).
There are thousands of very good reasons why we need to learn to breathe properly. However, below, I state the 10 most important ones for me:
10. The brain is the body's CPU, and like a computer, is prone to overheating. When you inhale through the nose, air passes through the nasal cavity and flows by blood capillaries close to the brain. A heat exchange happens and the air is heated up, while the brain cools down.
9. The heated air then enters the lungs, keeping the lungs warm, which prevents dozens of diseases. People who have breathing problems, including snoring and sleep with their mouths open, are often more susceptible to sickness. They lose moisture faster through the mouth. Inversely, inhaled air is moistened in the nasal cavity, which helps control the body’s moisture level.
8. The nasal cavity contains nerve endings that connect directly to the brain. When air flows by these nerve endings, it stimulates the brain directly and gives the brain activity, thus exercising the brain. People who breathe through their mouths on a regular basis are missing out on the chance to keep their brain active.
7. The body has a mechanism that responds to perceived threats, called Fight-or-Flight. It prepares your body for action. Unfortunately, the mechanism prioritises resources and redirects oxygen and energy AWAY from the brain and into the torso and limbs. It also secrets the hormone cortisol which dampens brain signals. This is why people who are angry, panicking, stressed out, surprised or even students entering an exam hall, temporarily ‘lose’ their ability to think. The key to this is keeping the heart rate down, which is primarily controllable via breathing.
6. The second problem with Fight-or-Flight is that when it kicks in, your heart rate goes up. At this level, the body retains only gross motor skills, but loses fine and complex motor skills. For a pesilat, this is death, because if you can't launch an accurate punch, execute a perfect lock or apply a complex throw, your training is pretty much useless. Again, your heart rate is only controllable through breathing.
5. Pesilat in the past often sought to increase their lung capacity by holding their breath statically (with no movement) and dynamically (while doing movement like a tari or jurus). This allows the pesilat to take in more air during normal breathing and provides more oxygen to the brain and body.
4. Since there is a physical limit to lung capacity (there's only so big your lungs can grow), they also used to train their deep breathing methods in high altitude. At such heights, oxygen levels are lower and trains the lungs to increases its absorption and oxygen processing rate.
3. The torso contains the most vital organs of the human body. Every organ is packed in close to one another. When we breathe deeply, especially with dynamic pressure, these organs are squeezed, pressed together and moved around. The lungs and abdominal muscles gently massage and exercise these organs, which allow blood to flow more efficiently through them.
2. There is research by Masaru Emoto that suggests that good intentions and good speech can program water to have healing effects. This is consistent with the belief held by Sufis that Zikir, reading al Quran and Selawat provide good blessings to water, often used to spiritually and physically cleanse. Since our body is made up of more than 60% water, it means that we can be similarly programmed. When we breathe and perform Zikir, it ‘programs’ the breath, which cleanses our systems and releases negative energy through exhalation.
1. Breathing reminds us of how weak, how destitute and how dependent we are upon Allah's Rahmah. We inhale and exhale only by His permission, His grace. Every time we breathe in, we undoubtedly realise that at any moment, we will stop breathing, and we will return to Him, breathless, useless, worthless.
This is some of what I have found to be true in my life so far. I welcome corrections and discussion on the above. In truth, only Allah Knows what is true and false.
By Mohd Nadzrin Wahab
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