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Breathing exercise calm the nervous system. There is no doubt that after you have practised some gentle long deep breaths in yoga, you feel calmer and leave the practice more content and happy. Maybe you felt anxious and suddenly realize that after the class you feel calmer and more relaxed. While it is not about taking as much air in as we can, it certainly is about how to extend our inhalations and exhalations.

How much air do we need?

I have been talking about hyperventilation in my yoga classes for years! Often people are surprised when I tell them "to breathe less" - as it seems everywhere else they are told to breathe more. See my blog about hyperventilation versus hypoventilation. While this influences the way we may feel in the long term, there is definitely an advantage to incorporate some slow deep coherent breath in our practice.

The normal respiration rate for an adult at rest is between 8 and 16 breaths per minute (12 - 20 breath according to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), 2017, but there will be some variation depending on age and medical condition).

It is in general accepted that a respiratory rate of above 25 breaths per minute can indicate that a sick person could be deteriorating, or other health conditions may prevail. A reduction in respiratory rate to 8 or fewer breaths per minute is also indicative of patient deterioration.

Trees are essential for our planet, they provide oxygen, and they have the power to remove harmful gases like carbon dioxide. Trees are making the air we breathe healthier. It is said that one large tree can provide a day's supply of oxygen for up to four people!

Ineffective breathing influences an effective gas exchange. When you breathe in, your heart rate increases, and when you breathe out it decreases. You can feel your pulse when you breathe in and out and notice the difference for yourself.

As mentioned above, respiration rates may increase with fever, illness, or other medical conditions. Caring and touching can decrease the rate, and the absence of nurturing touch can again increase the rate!

When we are anxious, our respiratory rate increases. When you don't get enough physical touch, you can become stressed, anxious, or depressed. All this increases stress for your body and has negative effects on your immune and digestive system. It's important to measure our respiratory rates, and ancient yogis knew that already.

Did you know?

  • Humans started breathing 2.5 billion years ago. There is evidence of the earliest oxygen-breathing Life on Land Discovered. Apparently "a spike in the chromium contained in ancient rock deposits, laid down nearly 2.5 billion years ago, reveals what appears to be the earliest evidence for oxygen-breathing life on land"

  • The lungs are the only organs in the human body to float on water. In 1243, the Arab physician Ibn al-Nafis became the first person ever to describe the breathing process.

  • The Air You Breathe Is Full of Surprises, so what many people don’t realize is that the air around has travelled thousands of miles. In fact, what you are breathing right now may have been halfway around the world just a few days ago.

Coherent Breathing in Yoga

We take a slightly longer, and deeper breath in for about 5 minutes. Every class, I start and end a session with involves breathing to calm the body and mind.

The vagus nerve - It is the function of the vagus nerve to send signals to adjust the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (the vagus nerve runs down through the opening of your diaphragm to your gut) and especially to slow down your heart when it speeds up. Those signals balance the heart rate, digestion, and we feel calm, but we can also use our breath to do this!

Normally, we may breathe at a rate of a few seconds in and out. In yoga, we become conscious of our natural breath and only with this awareness the breath expands and becomes slower and steady. With this, you relay a message back to the brain that you are feeling well. Research shows that after a few months people's depressive feelings decrease and their levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a brain chemical that has calming and anti-anxiety effects, increases.

The art of pranayama (extending the breath) and controlled conscious breathing may also affect the immune system.

"Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina divided a group of 20 healthy adults into two groups. One group was instructed to do two sets of 10-minute breathing exercises, while the other group was told to read a text of their choice for 20 minutes. The subjects’ saliva was tested at various intervals during the exercise. The researchers found that the breathing exercise group’s saliva had significantly lower levels of three cytokines that are associated with inflammation and stress. The findings were published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in August."

In coherent breathing, the goal is to breathe at a rate of five breaths per minute, which generally translates into inhaling and exhaling to the count of six (never to be forced - in the beginning just accept what your breath gives you). A very advanced way of breathing would be to be able to breathe for one minute in and one minute out! The instructions are easy:

1. Sitting upright or lying down, place your hands on your belly. 2. Slowly breathe in, expanding your belly, to the count of what feels natural to you (slowly it will increase and may reach 5 or more). 3. Pause. 4. Slowly breathe out to the count of what feels natural to you (slowly that will increase, and you can try to make it slightly longer than the inhale).

5. Practice once a day.

I offer a once a week online yoga class and the next yoga teacher training is planned for September this year. Email me for more information.



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