सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah’ – 6

Read the previous section of this series here


Śabdam to the Aid of Vāyu


(Source: TheHeartySoul)

Evening puja was going on in the crowded temple. Arun stood in front of the sanctum with folded hands. He looked as if he was lost in the contemplation of the Deity, but was in fact thinking about his assessment report that he had got that day, which was not too good. A few feet away from him sat old Guptaji, leaning on a pillar. His eyes were closed as if in meditation, but perhaps he was taking a nap. In the crowd of devotees was also Usha, who had come with her mother to the temple. She was bored and wanted the ārati to start, so that they could leave. She tried concentrating on the pūja and unknowingly, yawned. Guiltily she looked around and saw many around her yawning away. She wondered curiously as to who had started the chain of yawns!

Suddenly the temple bells began clanging as the ārati started. Instantly, Arun, Guptaji, Usha and all the yawning devotees were alert and began clapping to the beat of the ārati.

Do you know, what we just witnessed, other than the ārati, of course? It was the amazing power of sound or śabdam – one of the panćēndriyās, coming to the rescue of the polluted mind awakening the mind and body. I have mentioned the yawning devotees because sound helps in yawning too. Our elders had a very simple solution using śabdam, to deal with the yawn. But we will come to that later.

Let us first look at some basic facts about respiration. It is important to breathe through our nostrils as they have inbuilt fine filters in the form of very fine hairs to filter the air we breathe in of noxious gases and particulate matter, allowing more oxygen into the windpipe. The amount of oxygen we inhale determines our good health.

We often breathe through our mouths instead of the nostrils, as when we are:

  • talking incessantly on our cell phones.
  • engrossed in the apps on our smartphones.
  • immersed in some serious work – reading, writing, thinking or listening intently, as during a lecture.
  • holding our breath while watching something thrilling on the screen or in real life, exhaling only when it ends.

All the above factors interfere with the inhalation-exhalation process. When we talk, we don’t breathe through the nostrils, but only through the mouth, thereby allowing unfiltered air to enter the system along with carbon-di-oxide and other gases. Likewise, when we are engrossed in some serious activity, we never inhale normally through the nostrils, or just do shallow breathing. And when we hold our breath, we don’t inhale at all, thereby increasing the quantity of impure vāyu in the respiratory track and lungs.

Now imagine this: our lungs are filled with impure blood, waiting for oxygen – but we are not inhaling normally, thereby not sending in enough fresh oxygen to purify the blood. Since only oxygenated blood can pass through the arteries to the heart, the blood becomes dense and the breathing becomes heavy.

But Nature has a wonderful tool in the form of yawning to remove the noxious gases that have accumulated in our body due to our incorrect breathing. Talking of yawns, you must have often wondered why it seems to be contagious, especially in a room with lots of people, just as it had happened in the crowded temple.

When one yawns without trying to close the mouth or suppress it in anyway, the heavily laden foul breath escapes in a large quantity, sometimes accompanied by a loud sound let out by the person yawning. If the persons near the one who is yawning inhales this impure air unknowingly, it enters that person’s lungs and soon he or she is yawning too. Before long there is a chain of yawns.

 In Tamil, there is a saying that goes, ‘A kumari (young girl) might go alone on a lonely road, but a kottāvi (yawn) will never go alone.’ In this saying, the original word was kottān (ghost), which later got corrupted to kottāvi. It means that even a young girl will go alone but the ghost will never. It will take others along. Our elders had meant the impure air exhaled through the yawn to mean the ghost. What does this ‘ghost’ take along? Yes, it takes the toxic air exhaled by others too!

According to modern day etiquette, it is impolite to yawn with one’s mouth open, but that is the best way to get all the foul air out of the lungs – better still, to let out a sound along with a yawn! When the yawn is suppressed, the foul air remains in the system making one even more tired.


Illustration shows an edifying story from Bhāgvatam of Sri Rāma’s yawning and Hanumān’s snapping the fingers

And now for the use of śabdam by our elders to deal with open-mouthed yawns, which I had talked about earlier. They opened their mouths and let out a sound as they yawned, but snapped their fingers or clapped their hands in front of their open mouth. It is significant to mention here that the thumb and middle fingers represent agni and ākāśa, respectively. The sound from their throat, the fingers and hand – all helped to disperse half the polluted air that escapes in a gust.



Here, I would like you to recall the story of the boys who had run away from the tamarind tree, which I had written about in a previous article. There too, it was their screams that helped them move, by eliminating the noxious air they had inhaled and removing their tiredness.

We saw how accumulated toxic air in the lungs is cleared by yawning accompanied by sound. There are other methods used by Nature to rid the body of accumulated foul air – sneeze and hiccough. Let us look at the sneeze and the role of śabdam in sneezing. (I will deal with hiccoughs, when I take up digestive problems).


(Source: TheHealthSite)

It is customary for elders to say, ‘Hari!’ or ‘Shiva!’ when either they themselves or others sneeze, repeating it after every sneeze. Their sneeze would also be explosive with a loud hachchoo! Would you believe me if I said that this is the best way to sneeze as it clears the air passages and lungs effectively? (Śabdam to the rescue again!) Often people close their mouths while sneezing, or pinch their nose to stop an impending sneeze. Such actions can cause many health disorders, including allergies, with breathing difficulties like asthma, ear-related problems, chronic and even incurable diseases later on.

Significantly, our elders never admonished one to stop a sneeze, or told them to sneeze soundlessly, but instead encouraged one to sneeze aloud. You would be aware of the custom of elders asking those who are sneezing to leave the place during gatherings like weddings or other auspicious functions. Did they think it was inauspicious to sneeze?


‘Power of own sound’s (Source: Shecosystem)

Certainly not! This is a health-related custom too, which they have instituted in their wisdom as a part of rituals. While sneezing, the condensed and impure air in the body gushes out – often accompanied by saliva, phlegm and microscopic bacteria that pollute the air. An explosive sneeze no doubt serves to get all the accumulated toxic air and impurities out of the air passages including the nose, but it also scatters germs and bacteria in the process. It was to prevent the spread of germs that our elders had instituted this custom. On a lighter note, some people who are ‘chain-sneezers’ use this as an alibi to avoid attending functions if they don’t feel like it! Others who are unwilling to miss out the celebrations, deliberately suppress the sneezes by pinching and rubbing their noses, thus becoming victims of chronic problems in later life.

As we saw earlier, both the yawn and sneeze are accompanied by sound. The added sound made with the hands and fingers helps to disperse the foul air of a yawn. From these, we understand that the bhūtas and índriyas work together to keep us healthy. In this case the índriya śabdam comes to the aid of three bhūtas – Vāyu (yawn), and Vāyu + Appu (sneeze) and Vāyu + Appu + Agni (hiccough). We will look at this relationship in the next post.

Cover Picture: (Source: ilsentierodelloyoga.it)


Author: ‘Amritavarshini’, a wise elder who has conducted extensive research into the customs and rituals related to health, among rural and tribal communities of our country, learning from the wisdom of the elders in these communities and building on them with her own research through drugless therapies of India and the Far East. Her forte lies in integrating the various therapies with a generous dose of spirituality and interesting tales and anecdotes, to help in a healthy lifestyle.

Published: Sept 3, 2018


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. Jagrit Bharat is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Jagrit Bharat and Jagrit Bharat does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.