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yoga and breathing

Breathings, our life’s guide

You can stop eating or drinking for few hours or few days, but you can’t stop breathing.

We inhale about 17 000 times a day. The first inhalation happens at birth and the last one when we die. In between these two instants, respiration guides life. It speeds up, becomes jerky or slows down , depending on each situation or emotion.

From a physical point of view, respiration consists of getting in or out air from the lungs by changing the shape of the thoracic and abdominal cavity while moving the diaphragm.

From a yogi point of view, breathing allows us to absorb vital energy (prana) which regulates our bodily functions and to make it flow through the body. Breathing allows exchange with our surrounding environment. The air that we breathe goes from one person to another, from one animal to another....… .

Breathing is life. All our emotions influence our breathing. . Respiration is controlled by the autonomous nervous system. Like blood pressure, perspiration or digestion, we don’t have to think about it, it happens automatically.

With yoga practice, you learn how to breathe properly and to control your breathing. It is not emotions which regulate breathing, but rather breathing which controls emotions.

Breathing, how ?

Most people don’t know how to breathe properly. It has been found that, in general, women breathe automatically using the highest part of the body (the collarbones) during the day and the thorax at night. As for men, they breathe usually using the thorax. However, this is not a good way to breathe.

In the breathing process, three parts are involved :

– abdominal

– thoracic

– clavicular

The most important part to use is the abdominal one. To breathe properly daily you need to concentrate on the abdomen. A baby at birth , breathes by only using his belly. It is in the belly that vital energy used for organs and cells smooth running is stored. Breathing properly by using the belly activates the diaphragm.

Abdomen is like a water ball. It can change its shape but not its volume. . The diaphragm is a very important muscle in the body. During inhalation, the diaphragm goes down, the abdomen changes its shape to allow this motion. During exhalation, the diaphragm goes up.

Practicing daily abdominal breathing technique helps massaging internal organs (intestines, liver, pancreas, spleen, kidneys…), and improving absorption of ingested food, as well as digestion and elimination.

Breathing in Yoga

Practicing yoga helps learning about abdominal breathing technique, but also breathing in a complete, rhythmic, alternate, restrained way.

  • Complete breathing : it seeks to use the three levels. While inhaling, the belly then the thorax and finally the collarbones go up. While exhaling, the collarbones, the thorax and finally the abdomen go down. Complete breathing is ideal to relax, set energy in motion, calm tensions and stress.
  • Alternate breathing : alternate breathing is used a lot in yoga. It consists in breathing in , and out through one nostril and then the other one while closing off the first one or by focusing on it. This technique seeks to teach us how to control breathing, to regulate inhalation and exhalation phases and above all to clean the energy channels (nadis) through which energy circulates in the body.
  • Rhythmic breathing : yoga teaches us to breathe rhythmically. First, we learn to regulate our breath. Breathing in and out should take equal amount of time. It teaches us how to control our breath and increase our lung capacity. Then, we learn to spend more time breathing out than breathing in. The expiration called "Rechaka" is the most important phase of respiration. It helps eliminating oxygen and toxins. It is essential for a good inhalation process. Using rhythmic breathing helps controlling emotions in daily life.
  • Ceasing of breath : called "Kumbhaka", ceasing of breath is crucial in yoga. According to Patanjali (yoga sutra author), Pranayama (breathing exercises) is to cease inhalation and exhalation. . It is an important stage which consists in holding oxygen in the body in order to benefit more from it. It seeks also to calm down the brain and the vegetative nervous system. Pranayama exercises are used to help preparing for ceasing of breath. Kumbhaka are combined with complete, alternate, rhythmic breathing exercises or practiced on their own. . Ceasing of breath can be done with lungs full or empty.

Traditional respiration as practiced by yogis consists of four stages :

– Rechaka (exhalation)

– Breath retention while the lungs are empty

– Puraka (inhalation)

– Breath retention while the lungs are filled up with air

However, breathe through the belly or completely is already very well for positive effects. Standing straight is very important. Bad posture leads to bad breathing. It has been shown that most people use only 10% their lung capacity.

In yoga, breathing is done through the nose during the session as well as in daily life. The nose has small membranes (nasal vibrissa) acting as filters. They prevent dirt from entering the body and settling in the lungs. Nasal breathing increases well-being. Walk on the seaside and get a deep nasal breath. You’ll feel instantly better and when you’ll get home you’ll feel full of energy. It won’t be the case if you breathe through the mouth.

Pranayama helps setting energy in motion through the body, regulating it and also controlling breathing and setting internal respiration i.e. cellular.

Breathing well, it's good for what ?

  • Physically :

– It massages the internal organs and stimulates their function

– cleans the blood

– increases vitality

– strengthens the immune system

– calms the nervous system

– stimulates absorption, digestion, elimination

– improves endurance

– Improves Sleep

– reduces respiratory problems (asthma…)

  • Psychologically :

– reduces stress

– reduces anxiety

– redouces nervous tension

– helps controlling anger

– reduces tensions

– reduces tiredness

– improves concentration

– improves memory

To breathe well is to live well ! It is essential for a healthy life , where emotions hence one’s life are kept under control !

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