Why You Need To Breathe (It's Important...)
Breathing is a necessity of life and most of the time, we pay very little attention to it.
In most yoga classes, one of the first things you would hear is the importance of breath awareness to a healthy asana (movement) practice. Pranyama (breathing exercises) can be used to steer the class in dynamic or gentle directions. For example, if I am designing a deep backbend class with peak postures that require a lot of heat and flexibility in the body, I would add warming Kapalabhati (Skull Shining) Breath and Uddiyana (Upward Abdominal Lift).
Or, if I am designing a mellow and down regulating class, then I would use Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) or Bhramari (Bee) Breath (buzzzzzzzzz) to down-regulate the nervous system. These exercises are usually sequenced purposefully and there is a science to each style with a whole host of benefits and contraindications.
Have you ever given thought of what it means for you to inhale and exhale?
What compensations do you carry throughout your day (perhaps your nose is blocked)? Do you use your primary (diaphragm expanding outwards, lungs expanding sideways) or secondary (throat or neck) inhalation muscles to generate breath? Are you a mouth breather (or as I call them... a dragon)?
Only practicing breathing techniques for once a week or even once a day is missing the fullness of the picture, and by implementing some simple techniques, you can watch your breath transform your mind and body.
STOP Mouth Breathing
Are you breathing through your mouth right now? I did too, for a long time until I began my yoga practice.
Sometimes breathing through the mouth is necessary for a short period of time, for example when you have a flu or allergies. However, breathing through the mouth all the time, including when you are sleeping can lead to a whole host of problems. You would know if you have been primarily mouth breathing through the night if you observe the following symptoms:
- dry mouth
- bad breath
- waking up tired and irritable
- suffering from chronic fatigue
- brain fog
Babies naturally engage the diaphragm to take deep, refreshing breaths. As we get older, however, things change. We "suck in" our stomach for a trimmer waistline and the stresses of a busy London life (or any modern life!) gradually shift us to shallow, less satisfying "chest breathing."
Chest breathing isn't always bad and sometimes necessary - for example when exercising or when under pressure for a short amount of time and in need to be alert and fully engaged - i.e. running away from a tiger. I however, have yet had to run away from a tiger.
Chest breathing as a normal way to breathe cause stress and tension, because the body is in constant overdrive.
Learning to use the diaphragm to it's fuller capacity to initiate your inhalation helps you relax, lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body. Other benefits include:
- Lowering your heart rate helping to reduce blood pressure
- Helping to improve core stability and increasing resilience during exercise
- Improving mood and energy level
- Helping to reduce other compensatory patterns in the body
In summary using deep nasal breathing and using your diaphragm to its full potential is great for your overall mental and physical states.