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The Art of Breathing: Unlocking the Power of Your Breath

The breath is the single most important function in our bodies. It keeps us alive, determines how fast our heart beats, and carries essential nutrients around our body.


"Breath is synonymous with life."

So why do we keep hearing that so many of us are doing it wrong? How can it be that in our advanced medicalised society, we don't know how do to the most basic bodily function of living?

Over the past 3 years, I have taken 2 advanced breath-work trainings, and become more and more fascinated by the breath. As a yoga teacher, breathing has been a part and parcel of my training, language in classes, and a cornerstone of my practice.


But it was only in 2020 that I truly started practicing pranayama every day and delved deeper into this practice. I discovered that I was not breathing properly.


You might be wondering:

What do I mean by breathing properly?


When we breathe, many things happen at the same time in our wonderful bodies. As we breathe in, the diaphragm (a dome shaped muscle in our stomach) moves downwards to create a vacuum. As we breathe out, it relaxes and moves back up, forcing air out (see Image).

Simple, right?


Apparently not. The way most humans are currently breathing is actually very wrong, and is causing us a lot of undue stress, illness and pain.


Curious why? Here are some things I've learnt:




  1. Deep, Belly Breathing is SO Powerful


The diaphragm, that important breathing muscle we use every second has a direct link to our vagus nerve. This nerve runs directly from our brain into our deep stomach (see image) and is the primary component of your parasympathetic nervous system - think rest and digest.

One of the most effective ways to active it is to deeply breathe. But most of us are breathing incorrectly.


Stressful jobs; tight clothing; years of sucking in our stomachs and sitting a lot have meant that many of us are breathing shallow and too quickly. We breathe into our chest, rather than our bellies.


What's great is that this common problem can be fixed - and so simply.


One of the best things we can do to start breathing properly, is focussed deep breaths. Just 5 minutes a day of abdominal or yogic breathing will improve your ability to respond to stress (vagal tone), expand your lungs, and impact your overall system.


2. Stopping snoring is VERY important


Snoring is something that came into my life about 5 years ago. What I didn't know was (apart from being annoying) snoring can affect the health of your teeth and mouth, and can lead to sleep apnea.


Mouth taping has been my solution - simply shutting my mouth with tape every night, so that I breathe through my nose. This might seem like a bizarre thing to do, but it has made a big difference to my sleep!


3. Why is breathing through the nose so great?


As we know, we can breathe through either our nose or our mouth. Contrary to medical science, one is much more effective than the other.


As my teacher, Sudhir says:

"breathing through your mouth is like trying to eat through your nose."


The nose is actually an amazing organ, and like any part of our body: if you don't use it, you lose it. Here are 4 reasons you should start breathing through your nose (yes even during exercise):

  1. Acts as a filter - trapping pollen and micro particles.

  2. Adds resistance to the air stream. This increases oxygen uptake by maintaining the lungs’ elasticity.

  3. Warms up cold air to body temperature

  4. Nose breathing adds resistance to the air stream. This increases oxygen uptake by maintaining the lungs’ elasticity.


4. Mouth breathing is not optimal breathing


Breathing through the mouth, we might think we get more air in as the mouth is much bigger than the nose. What actually happens is that we receive less oxygen in our bloodstream from the exchange of gasses.


Even when we are exercising, studies have shown that breathing through the nose keeps the heart rate down, and optimises oxygenation of the bloodstream.


One of the best ways to open the nose is through focussed pranayama practices.


There are many of these potent practices (all of which we go through in my signature course, The Pranayama Habit.)


Brahmari breath (humming) is one of my favourites of these practices. Try it with me here:







References:



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