Pranayama* or the control of breath is one of the most important aspects of yoga. We all require air to help us metabolize. A human can go without food for 7 days, but not one can go without it for minutes. Yet many of us take breathing for granted. It is natural to us and does not require any active control.
The control of our breath helps us to regulate things like parasympathetic nervous system, which acts to reduce our “fight or flight” mechanisms such as our heart rate, blood pressure and even anxiety levels. We can also use our breath to balance ourselves physically at the asanas (postures), calm ourselves down mentally and emotionally regulate.
Hence at the commencement of your yoga journey, your teacher will start with slow abdominal breathing. When you use your abdominals to breath, you are pulling your diaphragm down. The diaphragm is a thin muscle layer that separates the lungs from the digestive organs. By pulling your diaphragm down, your lungs have more space to expand. And by having a larger lung capacity, more air goes into your lungs.
The average person takes 12 breaths per minute. However, respiratory research has shown that slow breathing (approximately 5 to 6 breathes) has tremendous benefits.
When breathing slowly, there is a larger volume of air that is taken in by the body. It stretches receptors in the vagus nerve that leads to the brain, which in turn lowers the blood pressure.
How slowly should you inhale and exhale to enjoy the maximum benefit from slow breathing?
There are many schools of thought in this. I belong to the Sivananda training, where the inhalation to retention to exhalation ratio is 1: 4 : 2 (measured in seconds).
However, scientists led by Heather Mason from Roehampon University (UK) recommend equal rates of inhalation to exhalation to improve oxygenation of blood for yoga newbies; with a minimum of 5 seconds to enjoy maximum stimulation of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system to help in reducing the heart rate and blood pressure – great for calming.
In my next article, I will explore how yoga alleviates insomnia, which many people suffer from. Meanwhile, enjoy a newer calmer you.
Cardiovascular and Respiratory Effect of Yogic Slow Breathing in the Yoga Beginner: What is the Best Approach by Heather Mason, Matteo Vandoni, Giacomo deBarbieri, Erwan Condrons, Veena Ugargol and Luciano Bernardi. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Volume 2013, Article ID 743504. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/743504
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