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Breathe Well & Feel Good

We breathe all day, every day, but many of us don’t notice or pay attention to it. Just like most things, until something goes wrong or illness appears, we often feign ignorance, and who can blame us? Life is busy. There’s no shame in it. Before I started yoga, I never even considered it - I mean, we breathe every day without fail, without thinking about it, so why should we think about it now?


It’s evident that the breath is essential, without it, we wouldn’t survive. In yoga, we practice Pranayama, which in Sanskrit, 'prana' means "vital life force", and 'yama' means “to gain control”. The first part is obvious, but why would we want to control our breath?


Did you know?

The human body can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, but only three minutes without air.


The Importance Of Breathing


Every system in the body relies on oxygen. From cognition to digestion, effective breathing can give you greater mental clarity, help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, reduce blood pressure, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels.


The breath isn’t limited to only the lungs; the diaphragm is our main respiratory muscle.


How The Diaphragm Works


The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle and sits at the base of the lungs.

When we inhale, our diaphragm moves downwards, massaging the abdominal contents and creating space allowing the lungs to expand. When the diaphragm descends, the pelvic floor descends. As we exhale, the opposite happens.

There are also muscles in between the ribs, which keep the ribcage stiff and help with breathing. These are called intercostal muscles.


I will create another blog where I will discuss in more detail why I don’t use the cue ‘engage the core’ as, through my studies and research, the core is reflexive. We want it to work with the breath rather than remain gripped, leading to a whole host of health issues.

But there's another huge question: why is it important to breathe through the nose?


Nasal Breathing


Time and time again, you’ll hear me cueing, ‘try to breathe through the nose'. Thanks to James Nestor’s book, The Breath, there has been an enormous shift in the discussion of HOW we breathe. (I highly recommend checking the book out).


Should we breathe through the nose or mouth?


The nose is built with a specific purpose: to support our respiratory system. The primary purpose of the mouth, on the other hand, is to start the digestive process.

Nasal breathing filters allergens and foreign bodies from entering the lungs and adds moisture and warmth to inhaled air. Mouth breathing is linked to several health conditions, such as sleep problems, tooth decay, learning difficulties, anxiety, stress and tension.

Does your breath affect how you feel?


Short answer: yes, completely.


Your breath impacts your stress levels.


If you’re feeling anxious, then your breathing is likely to be shallow and fast, causing your nervous system to ‘up-regulate’, aka enter the flight or fight response. However, when you’re breathing slower and deeper (using your full diaphragm), you can down-regulate your nervous system, tuning into your parasympathetic - rest and restore - response.

Breathing well releases certain hormones like prolactin and possibly oxytocin, the feel-good hormone of love and bonding.

More and more people are experiencing higher levels of anxiety, stress and tension. This can be seen in the chest with rapid breathing, leading to the overuse of the muscles in our necks, chest and shoulders, which can cause pain and other side effects.

So can we use the breath to change how we feel?


Absolutely.


In my yoga classes, we explore how our breath can activate different parts of the brain depending on how we want to feel. For example, activating the Midbrain in the Brainstem so you can feel more alert, perhaps even skipping your morning espresso! We explore a range of breath work, using the whole diaphragm, nasal breathing and a range of techniques which will not only help you feel better but also affect other outputs, such as reducing pain, increasing mobility and helping balance.

In the next few weeks, I will dive deeper so you can learn about different techniques that can help you. If you want to try a combination of breathwork and neuroscience in a yoga class, try out my new membership, where I am offering a two-week free trial, cancel anytime.

“The mind is the king of the senses but the breath is the king of the mind.” - B. K. S. Iyengar


(Image source: @animamundiherbals)





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