Yoga- The Importance of Breathing Correctly
Breathing may be the most important part of yoga. The clothes, mats, background music and positions do not matter if you are uncomfortable and restricted with each breathe. A unity of mind and body will not occur if your body is distracted by the need for more oxygen.
Breathing is essential for life. Breathing is the most basic way we interact with our environment. We take in necessary gases for our functions, and expel necessary gases for other living things. Respiration occurs in all life forms from unicellular protists to plants and animals like us. A human can fast for days, weeks or even months with discipline. Currently, the world record for a human holding their breath the longest is 22 minutes.
Breathing properly has an effect on your mind as well as your body. Fast, shallow breaths make a person aware of the small things and quick distractions. This breathing is done during strenuous workouts and when under stress. Slow deep breaths are used for sleeping and relaxation. This allows your brain to receive the most oxygen and higher brain functions like dreaming or imagining can become easier. Most people breathe slow shallow breaths for ordinary activities like talking or reading.
When humans breathe we develop a habit of breathing with only our chest rising and falling. This leads to highly developed upper lung function at the expense of use of the rest of the lungs. This is inefficient as more air can be absorbed and exchanged in the lower lobes of the lungs. The average human lungs have five lobes and three of them are located in the bottom half of their respective lung.
The muscle that controls chest breathing is the diaphragm. It contracts downward and we inhale air. It relaxes and we exhale mainly water vapor and carbon dioxide. By using our abdominal muscles to facilitate this process we can improve our oxygen intake and release our bodies from the stress and distraction of so many short, shallow breaths.
With each inhalation we take in about twenty percent oxygen. Chest breathing reduces this to as low as 15 percent as the lower lung lobes have more alveolar branches to disperse the available oxygen. By allowing your abdominal muscles to fully relax we allow more air to be used by the lower branches. The slow, long, deep breathing also give more oxygen to you.
What does this have to do with yoga? Yoga is a way of attaining union with the cosmic constant; the universe itself. Our five physical senses give us at the same moment too much incomplete information. Our eyes get the color of the apple.
Our hands give us an impression of the texture and temperature. How do we get an impression of the energy and experience of the apple, which is a living thing? We meditate. To condition our bodies to acclimatize to our new awareness we use yoga. For yoga to be effective, we need to breathe correctly.
For body conditioning, yoga is the ideal exercise for flexibility, balance, stamina and energy. Yoga relaxes you at the same time it stretches your muscles and strengthens your bones. If you follow the steps recommended by an experienced practitioner of yoga you will find that the basic move all positions and meditations require is breathing. Slow deep nourishing breaths. The unusual poses and enlightenment come later.
Proper breathing begins with relaxing. Get in a comfortable position sitting on the floor or mat. Maintain good posture with your back straight and your arms out to the sides. When you have found comfort take a deep slow cleansing breath through your nose. Be aware how your muscles feel as you breathe in. When you feel full to bursting exhale at the same rate you inhaled being careful not to hold your breath between inhalation and exhaling.
To see if you are inhaling into your lower lobes place one hand over your chest below your sternum or breastbone. Place another hand over your abdomen an inch below your navel.Your hand over your abdomen should rise higher than your hand over your chest. If it is difficult to tell, try lying down flat until you have the technique correct.
Repeat this ten times. With each breath try to evaluate the muscles you are using to inhale and exhale. Are they your chest, back or lower abdominal? Try to gently contract your abdominal muscles as you exhale to the count of five. If you need to work up to five that is fine. You are retraining your breathing and progress can be at your own pace.
Your focus should be to increase the volume of each breath. If at first you count to four try to get to a six second breath by the end of your tenth breath.
Remember to exhale fully. You cannot take in more air in one inhalation than you exhaled in the last breath. Always breathe through your nose. Picture your lungs as balloons or bellows that open and flatten with each breath.
When you can take one deep breath every ten seconds and take a second longer to exhale then this type of breathing has been properly learned. You are now able to learn other techniques which can help you master your body. Some allow you to increase your heart rate. Others will allow you to stimulate a good night’s sleep.
To continue this breathing in other positions remember that in bending positions you should Exhale as your body bends or your abdominal muscles are twisting. Inhale as you stretch and your abdomen is relaxing; you may feel strain in your neck or back if you are focusing too hard and hyperventilating. If this occurs lie down and relax. Focus on slow deep breaths but do not force them.