The ancient yogis have been studying the science of the breath for thousands of Years , and in more recent times the role of breath is becoming more & more talked about in the world of health and wellness.
Breathing is intrinsically linked to our emotional and mental wellbeing. The breath is often thought to be an expression of how we are feeling. When anxious it becomes short and fast and when we feel calm our breath is a little longer and smoother. Breath observation in itself for some people can be a really helpful mechanism to disengage from unhelpful distractions and thoughts. This is one of the reasons why we find the yoga practice so good at toning the relaxation response within the mind and body whilst developing present moment awareness at the same time.
The breath is an inherently complex but also natural mechanism that has an effect on our central nervous system as well as the musculoskeletal system and biochemistry of the body.
Let’s look at science for a moment. Breathing happens with an exchange of the gases oxygen & carbon dioxide. When you take a breath in, your inhale is dictated by the level of carbon dioxide present within the body, and when you breathe out, your exhale uses the oxygen from that breath to push out the carbon dioxide in your blood cells. This gaseous exchange is super important for maintaining a balanced harmonious state (aka homeostasis) within the body.
By regulating our levels of carbon dioxide we also maintain the optimal levels of PH or acid base balance in our systems and so we need to be able to breathe as efficiently as we can… this brings us onto the first question of ‘Should we breathe in through the nose or the mouth?
Nasal (Nose) Breathing. Yoga has always been a breath focused practice and breathing through the nose has been the most widely preferred method, with the exception of certain Pranayamas (breath work) or Kriyas (cleansing techniques) which we might be practicing to achieve a specific outcome.
“The nose is crucial because it clears the air, heats it, and moistens it for easier absorption.” James Nestor
In his book “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” James Nestor talks in much detail about the importance of nasal breathing. He draws from extensive medical texts in Pulmonology, Psychology and Biochemistry, and his own personal studies on what happens to his health when he tapes his nostrils shut for some periods of time for mouth breathing only whilst carrying out different degrees of movement and exercise.
*Yoga Student Handbook ed. Sian O’Neill. Chapter Four Breath-Andrew McGonigle pg 41*
In brief, his findings all sound pretty unappealing as he shares his uncomfortable and undesirable experiences!!! It does however become quite clear that nostril breathing is a much healthier technique to be used in our everyday breath.
In yoga we use a technique called Nadī Shodhana (alternate nostril breath) and it’s interesting to explore how each nostril (left and right) has a deep connection to the central nervous system; The left nostril is associated with the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and the right with the sympathetic nervous system (fight and flight). The Yoga tradition teaches about this particular practice for cleansing the different energy channels (Nadis) in the subtle body to accommodate and experience a balance of prana (energy/lifeforce). By learning how to breathe in this way and practicing regularly, we can change how energised or relaxed we feel, quieten down the mental chatter and ultimately bring us towards a freedom of mind.
“When we balance the breath through these two channels, we balance the self…This typically has a calming effect on the nervous system, further supporting any healing process.”- Matluck”
In ‘Awakening The Breath: 6 Week Guided Breathwork Course’ at Heather Yoga we will be exploring and developing many different ancient breathing tools, including different techniques where we breathe through our nose. They are all simple, accessible, and effective for every day:
- Calming & stabilising the mind space.
- Igniting & boosting your energy & vitality – mentally and physically.
- Improving & sustaining better focus & concentration.
- Decompressing from stress and taking care of yourself through challenges.
- Assisting with sleep – the quality & consistency.
- Understanding breath patterns, utilising the full capacity of your lungs & how to breathe correctly.
- Cultivating positive change & new habits through accessing your inner power (Prana/life force).
- Effecting your overall feelings of being well, healthy, vibrant, content, alive & present in your life and the world.
- Join me from Thursday 14th September to Thursday 19th November to deepen your practice and harness the transformational & healing aspects of Yoga.
Calm Your Mind. Charge Your Energy. Balance Your Nervous System. Elevate Your Mood
Sign Up Here: www.heatheryoga.co.uk/awakening-the-breath/
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” James Nestor