By mellowburnyoga, Apr 14 2020 11:22AM
One of the particularly nasty elements of the Corona virus series is the ruthless attack on the respiratory system. Never does it quite impact on the body as when the breath is negatively affected.
Our ability to inhale and exhale is quite literally what sustains us. Without it, we simply cannot survive, even beyond a few short minutes.
Our breath is also a mirror to our expressions of emotions. Consider the way you breathe when you're upset and crying. Then think about how you breathe when you're laughing or cheering... How about when you sing? And how about when you're deep in concentration?
It's a fascinating coincidence that we depend on the natural elements around us to be able to breathe. We quite literally make an exchange with the universe with every breath. We inhale and draw oxygen that the trees expel and exhale as the trees drink it back in. Even the construction of our lungs mirrors the branches of trees, because it's the most effective way to distribute into the inner or outer worlds of our bodies and the atmosphere.
We breath in and out 960 times an hour, 24,000 breaths a day. Oxygen supports and sustains every cell in the body, and within our exhale we expell toxins meaning our breath is also cleansing. Our lungs and respiratory system are so fundamental to the quality of life, yet so many of us are prepared to gamble this resource by impairing our lungs though smoking.
Our resting breath is shallow and taken care of by the automatic part of the brain. But this rest breath only involves around 1/6th of our actual lung capacity. Deep, enriching, detoxifying breathing is like a bonus ball for the body, but normally these come in the form of yawning or gasping. It is really important to spend time using breathing techniques to get into the deepest chambers of the lungs for the biggest benefits.
Shallow breathing keeps us alive, but when our corisol levels rise because we're stressed out, our body needs more oxygen. Instead it typically gets less! Dizziness, hot flushes and feeling faint are all common symptoms of heightened anxiety and yet without proper measured deep breaths, our body goes into panic mode. Our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate. We feel nautious and are unable to think clearly or consiously. Panic attacks can be crippling. Using the right breathing techniques can and do send strong messages to our nervous system and body that calm quickly and effectively.
Yoga and Breathing
Yoga strongly focuses on the art of breathing correctly and fully as a form of mediation, to increase longevity and to contain energy. The onus is on the breath being a kind of bridge between the physical and spiritual self, enabling us to move from the material world to the inner world.
Breath and breathing techniques are called Pranayama - literally translastes as 'Life Force Control' - because yogis believe that by controlling your breath, you are controlling elements of your life and your being. Different types of pranayama cultivate different types of energy - slow breathing is meditative and calming. Breath retention is cleansing and energy manipulation. Faster paced breaths are a full on energy charge.
By simple definition, concentrating on breathing means to concentrate on the now and this is a fundamental part of yoga too. Once familiar, we can use pranayama techniques in our lives off the mat too. with an array of different methods of breath useful for coping with whatever life throws at us.
5 Benefits of Better Breath Control
1. Better sleep. Consider how you sleep after you've been swimming or for a long walk in the countryside. Big bursts of oxygen in the system, cleanses and revives. Everything works better and our body is able to drop gear into relaxation because we've dealt with toxins. We can use breath techniques such as counted breath, samvritti (equal length) breath, or simply an elongated exhale to trigger the relaxation response.
2. Reduce anxiety and stress. Anxiety brings the body into the fight or flight response. It's common to feel tighteness in the chest and experience shortness of breath. By deepening and controlling the breath you can take back control, reoxygenate and regulate your heart rate and relax tension.
3. Improved lung capacity. This can have a huge impact on overall health. Your circulatory system carries oxygenated blood through the veins and our digestive, urinary, lymphatic and excretory systems function better thanks to healthier blood cells.
4. Balanced nervous system. The breath is known to control the autonomic nervous system. Our conscious body function i.e. what we are aware of doing with our bodies is known as the sympathetic nervous system, which also controls our fight or flight response. Our unconscious functions are controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system, which also controls our rest and digest response. We can actively shift from one side of our nervous system using slow, deep breathing techniques.
5. Meditation. Meditation hasso many benefits, not least of all to find self awareness and connect to inner peace. Observation often begins with noticing our breath and what it's doing. We gradually incorporate control and use this as the anchor of concentration and to find a way to calm down our thoughts.
Yoga is a fabulous way of using your breath and lung capacity to its fullest advantage. My public yoga classes at Stoughton Guildford on Thursday evenings, or at Woking Sports Centre on Tuesday nights both incorporate pranayama. Get to grips with basic yoga breathing techniques that you can use to benefit your in all areas of your life.