We spend our whole lives breathing and for the most part we are completely unaware of it. Breathing is also a crucial aspect of a Yoga practice. When we breathe correctly we are able to alter our mental state by drawing awareness to our breath, you gain more control over your emotions and it can improve your sleep patterns. To breathe is to live, and the quality of breath can make a huge difference to our well-being. Many of our bodily functions can also be affected by our breath, like our heart rate and blood pressure. A clinical study into the effect of breathing on hypertension showed that slowed breathing at six breaths per minute reduced activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the ‘fight or flight’ response. It was found that these effects seem potentially helpful in managing hypertension; therefore, learning the practice of conscious breathing is a valuable tool in managing your own health.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person ceases breathing repeatedly during the night, causing them bad quality sleep and other problems such as snoring, which has been connected to several health issues such as hypertension and even stroke (Young et al). 1993)
Sufferers may also experience severe hypersomnolence, which is obviously a serious hazard for activities like driving (Young et al, 1993). The issues arise from airway collapse and the good news is, with breathing exercises anybody can strengthen the muscles involved and gain better quality sleep! An issue that may be overlooked frequently is that of mouth breathing. Frequently breathing through the mouth instead of the nose brings with it significant outcomes concerning structural development of the face as well as damaging the delicate respiratory tract tissue (Emslie et al, 1952)
Taking air in through the nose is preferred as the nasal passage is designed to clean and warm the air in preparation for the alveoli in the lungs.
The process of breathing is complex, in terms of the brain’s involvement and it still isn’t fully understood by scientists; however, conscious breathing has been practised successfully for thousands of years and the benefits recorded. The ancient yogis of India understood the benefits of breathing slowly; as they made comparisons to the animals around them they realised the species that lived the longest were also the ones that breathed slowest. Various pranayama (breath control) techniques were developed to assist in influencing the functions of the body and mind.
The way a person is breathing at any given time may be a good indication of how they are feeling, or experiencing a situation. When anxious, the muscular system may tense and breathing may become shallow and fast, possibly leading to hyperventilation and fainting. Altering the depth and length of the breath can, therefore, help to bring a person out of their mental state so that they can take further instruction; however, by creating a protocol that a person who experiences anxiety attacks can use during an episode is invaluable. The same concept is easily implemented to approach depressive disorders as there are breathing exercises to help increase noradrenaline and combat feeling low.
So, what is the correct way to breathe?
The correct form of breathing is to push the abdomen out while inhaling (feel it rise), and let it come back in naturally while exhaling (feel it fall).
Let’s try now…. divide your breath into three different sections, lower abdomen, middle abdomen and your chest. See if you can cohesively breathe into each of these sections starting from the lower abdomen.
Breathing is like filling up a glass of water. To fill a glass of water up you must start from the bottom (lower abdomen), then the middle of the glass (middle abdomen) and lastly the top of the glass (chest). Exhaling is very much like emptying the glass of water, you start form the top (chest) and work your way down.
Take your time to practice your breathing, because like anything work little by little and over time your lung capacity will begin to expand and improve. You’ll start feeling positive results as this happens such as a more calmer mind, better focus and feelings of being in control and balanced.